Research paper: The Philosophy of Shimon
Shimon’s actions throughout the Tanach are extremely controversial. They have lead to the misconception that he was the troublemaker among the twelve brothers, and later even considered the “evil” tribe due to his poor judgment calls. Although he is often viewed as the rebellious brother, his intentions usually didn’t reflect that persona. In a way he was always destined to constantly face the challenge of combating his evil inclination. Even though Shimon had a fierce side to him, he didn’t sin due to an evil nature; rather his sinning was an outcome of trying to do the right thing through the wrong methods.
At Shimon’s birth, in Bereishit: 29: 33, his mother Leah said, “Hashem has heard that I am the hated one,” so she names her son Shimon, which stems from the word “saneh” (the hated one), to reflect her feelings. According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Leah named each of her sons based on Yaakov’s attitude toward her. She felt that she had not yet won Yaakov’s full love; rather, she felt unloved, and named her sons to reflect that. Ironically, Shimon’s name not only reflected the hatred Leah felt, but also translated into his violent nature. Ramban further explains why there was hatred between Yaakov and Leah in pasuk 21, saying that Yaakov equated Leah to her father Lavan, telling her she acted like him. This obviously hit a nerve since Leah’s father was evil, and she did not want to be told her actions reflected his.
In Bereishit 34:25-31, Shimon and Levi slaughter and rob the entire city of Shechem. Not only did they take innocent lives, but according to Ibn Ezra they did it on the third day after the men of this city had been circumcised, which is the most painful day of recovery. Although the brothers carried out the massacre to protect their sister Dinah’s honor, Yaakov was extremely disappointed in the way they handled the situation. According to Rav Hirsch, had the brothers only killed Shechem and Chamor they would not have been punished at all, but since they killed the innocent and stole from the city, their actions weren’t justified. He was angry that they tainted the reputation of the household through their slaughter. After Yaakov finished rebuking Shimon and Levi, they attempted to defend their motives, saying they were simply protecting the honor of their sister and sending a message to the world about the women of the house of Yaakov. Still, by murdering the entire city, the brothers went too far. Shimon and Levi’s motives were pure and justified, but their actions weren’t.
In Bamidbar, when the tribes were individually counted, Ramban speculates in 3:15 as to why Shevet Levi, numbering 22,000 was such a low number compared to the rest of the tribes. Ironically, this is also the number that Shevet Shimon eventually reached. Ramban says that when the Jews were suffering in Egypt Hashem blessed them to be fertile and multiply, but since Levi wasn’t afflicted they didn’t merit the blessing. Ramban’s second answer to this question includes Shimon: Shevet Shimon was struck with plague that took the population from 59,000 to 22,000, a punishment that stemmed from Yaakov’s anger toward his two sons when they attacked Shechem. This proves how powerful Yaakov was, and also what an impact Shimon’s sins made on future generations.
In Parshat Miketz 42:24, when Yosef took Shimon as prisoner in Egypt, there is much speculation as to why he was picked from all the other brothers. Rashi offers various explanations to this answer. Firstly, Shimon was the one who actually threw Yosef into the pit. He also was one of the main brothers to mock his dreams. Yosef wanted to separate Shimon from Levi because when they were together they were likely to plot dangerously. Furthermore, the pasuk says that Yosef imprisoned Shimon before their eyes; he only imprisoned Shimon in front of his brothers, but once they left Yosef let Shimon out of the prison and allowed him to eat and drink. This shows that despite it all, Yosef and Shimon still maintained their brotherly connection and a certain level of respect for each other.
In Parshat Pinchas 25:14, Zimri is killed along with the Midianite woman because they had illicit relations. Zimri was the son of Salu who was prince of the tribe of Shimon. Rav Hirsch comments that this is more proof of Shimon and his descendants’ wild side. The fact that Pinchas himself punished Zimri shows not only the graveness of the sin, but also the great rank of Zimri. According to Rashi, Zimri’s ancestry is mentioned here after the verse describing Pinchas’ vengeance for God to show that even though he was a prince, Pinchas’ act was justified. Rashi brings in a harsher approach. He says that although the Torah usually brings in ancestry for praise, in this case it mentions the slain man’s ancestry in order to show his evil origins.
In Parshat Vayechi, Yaakov’s blessings at the end of his life for Shimon and Levi differs from that of the other brothers. In 49:5-7, Yaakov points out that their craft of weaponry is a dangerous and stolen craft due to the fact that they murdered multitudes of people. The consequence of their actions would be the separation of the tribes of Israel. In 49:28, the pasuk says that they were all blessed, but Rashi points out that some of them were actually reproached instead. One might think that based on the wording, Yaakov didn’t bless Reuven, Shimon and Levi, rather he rebuked them. But to teach us that this in fact was not the case, the Torah says “and he blessed them,” implying that he blessed all of them. Rav Hirsch has a different opinion about this verse. He thinks it is not referring to the blessing Yaakov gave his sons, rather simply a characterization, meaning that this verse is just specifying how he characterized them when he did bless them.
Many people view Shimon as the evil brother, the one with the uncontrollable temper and a tendency to kill that translated down to his tribe in future generations. Although this may be true, there is a misconception that Shimon was completely evil. Some of the time his motives were pure, just executed poorly. This teaches us an important lesson: not to be quick to judge someone for their mistakes. Not everyone is perfect, and sometimes people succumb to their evil inclinations and sin more frequently, but what’s important is to focus on the small amount of good that a person can do, rather than the immorality.
Student Studying in Harova