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  • Writer's pictureEve Was Right

8. History's First Narcissist

Updated: Jan 22

Plus: the epitome of doing bad things for good reasons.


Parshah Vayishlach

TL;DR of the Text

Major Themes

  • Dinah’s assault and the psychology of violent narcissism


*Important attribution note: All quotes listed in this article are credited to the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash. Here is an Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash : the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.


Genesis 34:1-3*

“Now Dinah - the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob - went out to look over the daughters of the land. Shechem, son of Hamor the Hivvite, the prince of the region, saw her; he took her, lay with her, and violated her. He became deeply attached to Dinah, daughter of Jacob; he loved the maiden and appealed to the maiden’s emotions.”

Setting aside the obvious horror of Dinah’s assault, this passage features a mountain of disordered psychology. Shechem raped Dinah, then became deeply attached to her and “loved” her? How does one love the person they raped? 


The answer is simple: one doesn’t. What Shechem identified as love was actually a desperate and dangerously externalized search for validation. If Shechem could convince the person he assaulted to love him, if he could just manage to get Dinah to forgive him and see “the real” him underneath his evil behavior, he would have proven himself lovable no matter what. 


What Shechem identified as love was actually a desperate and dangerously externalized search for validation.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? In other words, Shechem supplied the world’s first description of violent narcissism. Shechem is long gone, but this type of psychology is very real and still prevalent today. 


I appreciate the bit addressing Shechem playing the victim (“appealed to the maiden’s emotions”). Every violent, dangerous person expertly wields this tool.


Genesis 34:11-12*

“Then Shechem said to her father and brothers, ‘Let me gain favor in your eyes; and whatever you tell me - I will give. Inflate exceedingly upon me the marriage settlement and gifts and I will give whatever you tell me; only give me the maiden for a wife.”

“I know I raped her, so just name your price. I’ll even be generous - it can be higher than normal.” 


Genesis 34:13*

“Jacob’s sons answered Shechem and his father Hamor cleverly and they spoke (because he had defiled their sister Dinah).”

Dinah’s brothers then agree with Shechem and Hamor’s proposal for intermarriage and assimilation under one condition: the men of the town must undergo circumcision. 


This was a big fat lie, because as the townsmen recovered from the procedure, Simeon and Levi went into the town and killed every man. 


Interestingly, the Torah takes it upon itself to provide us with an excuse for Dinah’s brothers. Yes, they lied, but we’re directly told the reason for their lie, implying the lie was acceptable. 


Genesis 35:2*

“So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Discard the alien gods that are in your midst; cleanse yourselves and change your clothes.’” 

Even Jacob’s household, the man to whom God spoke personally, worshiped idols! It just goes to show the stickiness of paganism and the deep entrenchment of these habits. 


Genesis 35:22*

“And it came to pass, while Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah, his father’s concubine, and Israel heard.”

The rabbis' version of events goes: Reuben removed his father’s bed from Bilhah’s tent and put Jacob’s bed in the tent of Reuben’s mother, Leah. After Rachel’s death, Jacob moved his primary residence to Bilhah’s tent because Bilhah was Rachel’s servant. None of this conjecture is in the text. 



This theory seems a bit of a stretch since the Bible consistently uses the term “lay with” to mean “slept with.” If the rabbinical interpretation is correct, Reuben did nothing wrong, and acted honorably to defend his mother. 


Consider the alternative: Reuben did sleep with Bilhah, but perhaps still with the goal of protecting Leah. Reuben might have assumed if Jacob’s son slept with Bilhah, the action would be unpleasant enough to prevent Jacob from favoring Bilhah and thus would finally force his father to pay attention to his mother. 


In this case, Reuben wronged Bilhah by using her as a pawn against his father. I can’t in good conscience condemn his actions in defense of his father when taking into account Jacob’s terrible treatment of Leah.


Following this verse, the Torah refers to Reuben as “Jacob’s firstborn,” (Bereishis 35:23), hinting that the Torah doesn’t consider Reuben’s actions a grave sin.


*Again with the Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash : the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.

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