Vayishlach: Shimeon and Levy & Collective Punishment

The act of Shimeon and Levy in Shchem bears light on a subject so relevant today in our dealings with the Arab enemy. And the subject is the one called “collective punishment”. For here is Shimeon and Levy, in response
to a crime which was more sexually motivated than nationally motivated, wiping out an entire city because of the act of one individual. You can’t get much more collective than that!

At this juncture, we will not respond to the modern falsifiers of Torah who condemn the act. The fact is, a look in Parshat Vayishalch will reveal that Yaakov never condemned the act on a moral basis, but rather on a practical
basis (“you have brought trouble on me..and I being few in number, they shall gather themselves against me..”). The fact is, not one Torah commentator condemns it. The wiping out of Shchem was the pride of the tribe of Shimeon, inscribed on its flag in the desert! All the commentators see the act as a mitzvah and one of great m’sirut nefesh. The only argument among the commentators is concerning the question of why it was permitted?

The Rambam for instance, writes that the gentiles of Shchem were guilty for not observing the seven Noacide Laws – one of these laws being the obligation to set up court systems to try criminals. Since the people of
Shchem did not bring Shchem Ben Hamor to trial, they were obligated the death penalty. The Maharal differs. He says that since the people of Shchem feared their prince, they were forcibly prevented from bringing him to
trial, and were therefore dismissed from guilt. Then why was Shimeon and Levy permitted to collectively punish an entire city? The Maharal answers: “Since both the Shchem Canaanites and Yaakov & sons were were already
considered ‘nations’ or ‘collectives’ (as was mentioned in their agreement to circumcise, ‘and we will be as one nation’, instead of two nations), it was permitted to fight against them according to the laws of war, when
nation goes against nation, as a collective. And though it is written that before such a war, one must make the offer of peace, that is only when they did not harm Israel. But here, where they violated (a Jewish girl), even though only one of them did it, he is part of a collective, and one can take vengeance against all of them. And such is the case for all wars, as it says, ‘Take vengeance against the Midyanites’, etc, where even though only a few did (evil), it makes no difference because they are from the same nation..and such is the case in all wars… (Gur Aryeh, Parshat
Vayishlach)

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