How Did Moshe Rabbeinu Praise Shimon and Levi’s Bravery in Shechem?
Bamidbar (Numbers) 2:2 The Israelites shall camp each with his standard, under the banners of their ancestral house; they shall camp around the Tent of Meeting at a distance.
Rashi : באתת [EVERY MAN OF THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL SHALL ENCAMP BY HIS OWN STANDARD] WITH THE SIGNS [OF THEIR FATHERS’ HOUSES] — Each banner shall have a different sign — a piece of coloured cloth hanging on it, the colour of the one not being the same as the colour of another, but the colour of each tribe shall be like that of his stone that is fixed in the breastplate (of. Exodus 28:21), and by this means everybody will be able to recognise his banner .
Midrash Bamidbar Rabba on the chapter (2:7) informs us that Shimon’s banner or flag was colored green and contained an image of the city of Shechem.
Maharzu’s commentary states concerning Shechem – regarding the bravery and self sacrifice in Shechem, And even though Levi was with him, Shimon was the older one and the main one and this was his praise that he was zealous against harlotry.
Had Moshe Rabbeinu not approved of Shimon’s behavior, he would not have allowed them to display the city of Shechem on their flag.
How Do We Know Moshe Rabbeinu Had the Obligation to Protest If He Really Disapproved of Shimon and Levi’s Bravery in Shechem?
The mishna relates that the cow of Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya would go out on Shabbat with a strap between its horns, contrary to the will of the Sages. The Gemara asks: Did Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya have only one cow? Didn’t Rav say, and some say that Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya would tithe from his herds 12,000 calves each and every year? There were 120, 000 calves born in his herds annually. There is no way, then, to speak of the cow of Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya.
The Gemara Answers It Was Really the Neighbor’s Cow But the Blame Was Attributed to Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya Because He Had the Ability to Protest But Did Not
what did the Elders, i.e., the Sages of that generation, do that was considered a sin? Rather, say: God will enter into judgment with the Elders because they did not protest the sinful conduct of the princes.
Someone Might Ask Maybe the City of Shechem Was Displayed on Shimon’s Banner/Flag in order to Shame The Tribe for Bad Behavior of their Ancestor?
There are several reasons to reject the idea that the city of Shechem was placed on Shimon’s banner to shame them.
- When Moshe Rabbeinu did want to shame the tribe of Shimon after the incident involving their deeds in the place called Shittim, he did so by not giving the tribe an overt blessing (see Rashi and Sifri to Dvarim / Deut. 33:7) while giving a blessing to all the other tribes.
- Regarding the banners all the descendants of Yaakov got a banner with a picture on each banner denoting some merit or praise of the tribe. Even the tribe of Levi (Shimon’s partner in the Shechem story) and the tribe of Reuven got a picture praising some deed or trait of the tribe on their banner as spelled out in Bamidbar Rabba 2:7. The fact that the other tribes had a banner displaying some merit or praise of the tribe indicates that the Shechem picture on Shimon’s banner was also meant as praise.
- Furthermore, prominent rabbis such as, Rambam and Maharal came up with Halachic justifications on behalf of Shimon and Levi..
- Ramban has a separate approach, where he tries to give the reasoning of Yaakov Avinu’s opposition to Shimon and Levi, while also offering an explanation for the viewpoint of Shimon and Levi.
On the Pragmatic Limitations on the use of force, see the post: Building New Israeli Settlements – The Opinion of the Gaon – according to Kol Hator
It should be obvious that further information and study than what was presented in this post is needed to properly apply the precedent of Shimon and Levi to future situations.
Without voicing my own opinion on the subject, I will point out that Rabbi Dov Lior recently stated that he agrees with Maharal’s line of reasoning to explain Shimon & Levi at Shechem.