He then continues south, encounters the “איש” at Penuel, then meets Esav and tells him he can’t go much faster:
So he goes to Sukkot (just east of the Jordan) and sets up camp:
He obviously spends a long time there; Rashi says 18 months:
And the Targum Yonatan says 12 months:
Then he crosses the Jordan at the Damia Bridge and takes Highway 57 to Shechem. This was the ancient trade route through Nachal Tirzah:
And, like in Sukkot, he buys land, presumably intending to stay there for a while:
Then the incident with Dinah happens and he leaves to go south on Highway 60 to Bet El where he had sworn to build a בית אלקים:
Then he continues south on Highway 60 to Bethlehem and Migdal Eder, ending up in Hebron:
So how old is Dinah? She has to be 7 or 8 years old, and Shimon and Levi are 13 or 14 when they slaughter the city. That bothers some people:
Rabbi Leibtag, while acknowledging that Yaakov’s children couldn’t be that young, is bothered by the idea that he stayed in Shechem:
So he proposes a radical answer, based on (or at least consistent with) the Midrash Lekach Tov:
In other words, the incident in Shechem is after Yaakov goes to Bet-El (and presumably is reunited with his father). Rabbi Leibtag proposes that this is an example of אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה. The two paragraphs of פרק לד through לה:ח actually take place much later. Yaakov comes from Lavan, stays in Sukkot only a short time, goes to Shechem and buys land as an investment for the future (לג:יח-כ); note that much later his sons are grazing the sheep there:
He builds an altar there but immediately goes to Bet El where ה׳ confirms the name change and the ברכה (לה:ט-יא) and then goes to Hebron to his father. Only later does he return to Shechem, has the trouble with Dinah, and then ה׳ tells him to return to Bet El (לה:א-ח). This removes the age problem, and explains why Yaakov’s time in Bet El is split into two paragraphs, with the introduction “וירא אלקים אל יעקב עוד בבאו מפדן ארם; ויברך אתו” only in the second paragraph (לה:ט). It removes the question of why Yaakov delays fulfilling his neder and seeing his father—he doesn’t.
But I don’t buy it. Dinah is explicitly called a ילדה (לד:ד) and this is precisely why the crime is so terrible; there’s no sense that she can consent. And the question of how two 13-year-olds can take on a whole city is an optical illusion; “עיר” doesn’t mean what we think it does:
And we know why he delays: he cares about his sheep. It’s risking a lot of money to push his flocks that hard. And the midrash takes him to task for caring more about his money than his oath:
Rabbi Leibtag still needs to explain why the Torah would put the Dinah story out of order. His explanation resonates, even if the entire account is chronological. He asks, does Yaakov actually ever fulfill his vow? He swore:
He builds a מזבח, but what happened to the בית אלקים?
The purpose the altars of the Avot was to proclaim the “Name of G-d”:
But that doesn’t happen with Yaakov. He names the place for G-d, but there is no ויקרא בשם ה׳.
Rabbi Leibtag says that the story of Dinah is what happened. It is the introduction to Yaakov’s return to Bet El because it explains why that return failed. Whether or not Shimon and Levi were justified in their actions, they destroyed Yaakov’s reputation as a man of G-d.
The goal was יראת אלקים, not חתת אלקים. But that’s all gone.
Part of the message of ספר בראשית is how the mission of Abraham—את הנפש אשר עשו—becomes narrower and narrower and limited to the family of בני ישראל, and the rest of תנ״ך (and all of Jewish history) is the slow regaining of that mission, to be an אור לגוים. This parasha, unfortunately, was a giant step backwards.