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An Unreasonable Source

An Unreasonable Source


Thirteen years is the age at which the Jewish male becomes bar mitzvah ("son of commandment"). At this point in his life, his mind attains the state of daat--the maturity of awareness and understanding that makes a person responsible for his actions. From this point on he is a "man," bound by the divine commandments of the Torah, individually responsible to G‑d to fulfill his mission in life.

The age of daat is derived from Genesis 34:25, in the Torah’s account of the destruction of the city of Shechem by Shimon and Levi in retaliation for the rape of Dinah. The verse reads: "On the third day... Jacob's two sons, Shimon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, each man took his sword, and confidently attacked the city..." The term "man" (ish) is used to refer to both brothers, the younger of whom, Levi, was exactly thirteen years old at the time.1 Thus we derive that the Torah considers a male of thirteen years to be a "man."2

But the context in which this law is derived is surprising. Shimon and Levi’s act seems hardly an exemplar of daat; indeed, Jacob denounced their deed3 as irrational, immature, irresponsible and of questionable legitimacy under Torah law.4 Yet this is the event that the Torah chooses to teach us the age of reason, maturity, responsibility and commitment to the fulfillment of the mitzvot!

The Foundation

As Shimon and Levi replied to Jacob,5 the situation that prompted their action did not allow them the luxury of rational consideration of its consequences. The integrity of Israel was at stake, and the brothers of Dinah could give no thought to their own person—not to the jeopardy of their physical lives, nor to the jeopardy of their spiritual selves by the violence and impropriety of their deed. In the end, their instinctive reaction, coming from the deepest place in their souls—deeper than reason, deeper than all self-consideration—was validated; G‑d condoned their deed and came to their assistance.6

This is the message that the Torah wishes to convey when establishing the age of reason and the obligation of mitzvot. Rare is the person who is called upon to act as did Shimon and Levi. This is not the norm; indeed, the norm forbids it. But the essence of their deed should permeate our rational lives. Our every mitzvah should be saturated with the self-sacrifice and depth of commitment that motivated the brothers of Dinah.7

To the day; see Reshimot #21 and the sources cited there.
The sages calculated that the equivalent age in a female, who matures earlier than a male, is twelve years.
"And Jacob said to Shimon and to Levi: 'You have besmirched me, making me odious among the inhabitants of the land... I being but few in number, they shall mass against me and smite me, and I shall be destroyed, I and my household'" (Genesis 34:30); "Shimon and Levi are brethren: instruments of violence are their wares. Let my soul not come into their council, let my honor not unite with their assembly; for in their wrath they slew a man, and willfully they have maimed an ox. Cursed be their wrath, for it is fierce, and their fury for it is cruel..." (ibid., 49:5-7).
See Likkutei Sichot, vol. V, pp. 150-152, and the sources cited there, for a discussion of the halachic pros and cons of the destruction of Shechem.
Cf. Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 99:7; Tanchuma, Vayechi 10.
Based on an address by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Vayishlach 5725 (November 21, 1964). Likkutei Sichot, vol. V, pp. 150-162; ibid., p. 421.
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson; adapted by Yanki Tauber.
Originally published in Week in Review.
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Anonymous Atlanta, GA November 30, 2014

Betrayal The actions of Simon and Levi are similar to those the Supreme Court of the United States has condoned for police officers' dealings with criminal suspects. Even though it is contemptible to use lies and deceit to take advantage of an honest man, those tools are permissible when attempting to ensnare a criminal who could not be brought to justice otherwise. We too owe a duty to everyone to be honest in our dealings with them, unless and until they relieve us of that duty by committing a serious offense--such as rape.

Nonetheless, while the actions of Simon and Levi may have been countenanced by G-d, it doesn't follow that the allies of their victims will agree. Jacob must distance himself from the acts of his sons if he wishes to avoid the vengeance of the neighboring peoples.

We are therefore taught that even when we have the right to exact vengeance (which the Torah frequently gives to the family of victims), we must be aware that it may endlessly perpetuate vengeful acts. Reply

Josie Mares Colorado Springs, CO November 21, 2010

Aggression I believe the Torah here teaches that rage-filled acts of aggression lead to bad consequences and chaos. I believe that Jacob would never have condoned these actions ahead of them, because Jacob represents "truth". The brothers went against the truth of their promises to Shechem and his people that the circumscions would lead to harmony between their peoples. Reply

alex lexington, ma November 20, 2010

Killing all males because of one rape is more than preserving integrity - it's vengence. This is one example why humanity does not want to worship Torah. Reply

shmulik skokie, USA November 28, 2009

tachlis of the article the Rebbe is saying that despite the fact that a Jew gets "daas" at 13, there has to be the willingness to have a mesiros nefesh (self-sacrifice) for the sake of another jew that transcends daas. Reply

Josh F. March 19, 2009

At 13, you must accept the responsibilities of each and every commandment, since it is equivalent to avenging the raping of our people. Reply

Anonymous November 22, 2007

What was your answer? I could understand that maybe there can be the question, Why was Simon and Levi not punished for their actions more than being yelled at? in this Divar Torah, but what was your answer? Was your answer because they had conected to thier neshama that they had when they were a child somehow? What can we learn from this Divar Torah? Is it that a man is responsible for his actions at the turning of 13? Reply

Ari Edson Thornhill, Ont November 20, 2007

I am not sure what the conclusion to this article is telling. Is the message informing a Jew that once he has been given daas at baar mitzvah he should still know that he has is a deeper level above, one that transcends his daas. The deepest core of his being rooted in his very essence in which he only had contact with in his childhood. But he should still know that at the deepest core of him is boundless potential transcending his very reason.

Is that the message of this article?

to know that once a Jew is given daat? Reply

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