The Torah in Parashat Vayishlach tells of the abduction and defilement of Dina, Yaakov’s daughter, and makes a point of noting Yaakov’s surprisingly calm reaction: “Yaakov heard that his daughter, Dina, was defiled, and his sons were with his cattle in the field, and Yaakov was silent until they arrived” (34:5).
Rav Avraham Saba, in his Tzeror Ha-mor, suggests two possible explanations for Yaakov’s silence. First, he writes, “This shows his wisdom and patience, that he was experienced in tribulations and horrors.” People who have yet to grow accustomed to crisis and hardship are prone to react with hysteria or resort to drastic measures when they confront trouble. According to the Tzeror Ha-mor, the Torah notes Yaakov’s clam reaction to emphasize Yaakov’s ability – borne out of years of hardship – to retain his composure under duress, to calmly process difficult situations without reacting impulsively or hysterically.
Secondly, the Tzeror Ha-mor suggests, “Perhaps this alludes to the fact…that he accepted the judgment and remained silent, for he was the cause, having sent all his sons with the cattle, for if some of them were home, they would have accompanied her and protected her.” According to this approach, the Torah’s description of Yaakov’s “silence” refers to his accepting a degree of responsibility for what happened. The Tzeror Ha-mor in this interpretation seeks to explain the relevance of the fact that “his sons were with his cattle in the field” in this verse, and he suggests that this is the reason for Yaakov’s “silence.” Yaakov realized that by sending all his sons to tend to his sheep, he left Dina alone and unprotected, and thus he bore some level of guilt for the tragedy that had befallen his daughter.
These approaches teach us two important lessons regarding the proper way to handle adversity. First, we are reminded to remain calm, patient and level-headed. Whereas Yaakov’s sons resorted to drastic measures to respond to the crisis, Yaakov, who was far more experienced in dealing with hardship, urged patience. Secondly, the Tzeror Ha-mor teaches us the importance of recognizing our mistakes that may have contributed to the difficult situation. Rather than simply feel angry at others, Yaakov was humble and honest enough to acknowledge his own misjudgment which helped precipitate the crisis. One of the ways we can turn unfortunate circumstances into learning opportunities is by considering whether our mistakes are partially to blame for the situation, and then working to ensure that these mistakes are not repeated in the future.