A Woman's Persuasion
"And [Jacob] arose during that night, and he took his two wives, his two maidservants, and his eleven children, and he crossed the ford of the Jabbok [stream]." -- Genesis 32:23
"But where was [Jacob's daughter] Dinah? [Jacob] put her into a chest and locked her in, so that Esau should not set eyes on her. Therefore, Jacob was punished for withholding her from his brother – [because had he married her,] perhaps she would cause him to improve his ways – and she fell into the hands of Shechem." -- Rashi's commentary on the verse
Esau was reared in the most ideal household imaginable. His earliest childhood memories were of life together with his illustrious grandfather Abraham, the paradigm of kindness and purity, who personally oversaw the education of his twin grandsons and gave them the foundations for a meaningful spiritual life. With Abraham's passing when Esau was fifteen years old, life for the young lad continued in the presence of Isaac and Rebecca and his brother Jacob. Seeing a tzaddik (righteous person) even once has an intense impact on a person, and Esau spent decades with none other than the three Patriarchs! One would be hard-pressed to find another person throughout the course of history who had a comparable upbringing, yet this had very little effect on a very thick-skinned Esau.
But that which saintly parents and brother couldn't accomplish, Dinah could conceivably have achieved. Despite the fact that she was a young girl, she could have inspired Esau – a man who had incredible unrealized potential – to mend his ways. This is a compelling demonstration of the influence a woman wields in her home. Our sages refer to the woman as the "akeret habayit," the foundation of the home, for she sets the tone of her home -- not through preaching or the power of persuasion, but by establishing the environment of the household.
There are many ways to influence others. The teacher/student dynamic is certainly a vital contributor to the making of a person, yet it is widely recognized that the imparting of information is the least effective way to inspire a person to change. Parents play a much greater role in the formation of their children's character. They serve as their children's primary role models, teaching by example rather than indoctrination. The values they live by will always be deeply embedded in their children's psyche. Nonetheless, children have a natural propensity to rebel, to explore the world on their own in order to arrive at their own code of ethics and values. The innate tendency of children to discard the conclusions reached by previous generations allows the world to steadily progress and uncover new "truths" -- many of which will be disproved by subsequent generations -- but also limits the influence the older generation exerts over the younger ones.
The ultimate influence is exerted by the woman who sets the tone of her household. No one is immune to the atmosphere which pervades his very own home. The man might be more vocal about his opinion, but the values which dominate the home will slowly sink in.
Obviously, Dinah had extraordinary soul-powers, for it certainly isn't recommended for the average woman to marry an Esau in order to reform him! However, the story of Dinah sheds light on the enormous role every woman plays in shaping the characters of the members of her household.