We can be looking right at a person, and still not see them for what s/he is. We see them for what they were in the past, or what we want them to be in the future, but it’s so easy not to see them for what they really are. How do we get to that point, where clear memory is preferable than blurry reality?
I noticed something unusual in the language of this week’s parasha, Vayishlach. And it got me thinking about how we see things, and how we choose to see things.
We read of Dinah this week. She is Leah’s daughter, the only daughter of Jacob that we know of. Dinah went out to see the other women of the area, and gets raped by Shechem, the prince of that town. We read, however, that Shechem loves the na’arah (usually translated as maiden, virgin) and speaks with her tenderly. (Gen: 34:3) He wants to marry her. So, he goes to his father Hamor, the chief, who comes to Jacob to talk this over. Jacob had heard about the attack on his daughter, but keeps quiet until his sons come home. They are very upset. But Hamor pleads with Jacob to let his son, Shechem, marry Dinah. Then, Shechem speaks up for himself, “Do me this favor, and I will pay whatever you tell me. Ask of me a bridge price so high, and I will pay you, only give me the na’arah for a wife”. (Gen. 34:12)
Na’arah? Maiden? She’s no virgin and Shechem knows it. He just had sex with her ten verses ago; Jacob knows it, too, and Shechem knows he knows. Why would Shechem still call her a maiden? Does he still see her that way?
We all know of married people who have grown old together, and when they look at each other with such love, they see the young, beautiful sweetheart instead of someone who’s grown old. My father would call my mother his “bride” every day; he never saw the curlers or the tired lines in her face. This is the sweet, loving side of “rosy vision”, balancing love and the reality of “now”. Sometimes there’s another kind of vision, though.
We can see a loved one and be blind to the changes of time, but that vision doesn’t include the reality of “now”. It’s when we see a partner or parent who is frail, but we prefer to ignore it, seeing only the abilities and behavior of a younger person that no longer exists. Love doesn’t color, it obscures.
Shechem saw Dina through loving eyes, and therefore she was still a maiden. He acted out of that vision, agreeing to do anything needed to win her as his wife. Her brothers, however, saw Dinah as the victim of a brutal attack, and couldn’t see her as anything else. They acted out of that vision, and struck back to take revenge on behalf of their victim/sister, with devastating results. They slaughtered all the men of Shechem’s town and carried her back home.
Looking at someone through the reality of “now” is harder to do. It can shatter illusion and confuse memories. But how might Dinah’s future have changed if only her brothers had accepted Shechem’s woman vision of her? Instead, they held on to the pure-sister image too long; it caused them to lash out and caused great pain.
Love may be constant, but shouldn’t be stagnant. Love can be tinted by memory without being obscured by memory. For many of us in my stage of life, this is the dilemma as we endeavor to take care of aging parents. It’s not easy. We cry a lot. We hear about aches and appointments, and try to find the best solution to their care. Dinah’s brothers couldn’t adjust their lenses in order to see their sister for the woman she had become, and she suffered for it. The same is true when we don’t see our parents for the frailer, more vulnerable people they’ve become. We need to seek the balance of love both “now” and “then”. When we do, our sight is clear, and our love is real.