Last week’s Torah Portion, Parshat Vayishlach, contains one of the most famous and one of my favorite scenes in the entire Torah -- Jacob’s midnight wrestling with the angel, with himself, with G-d, with his past and future. This wrestling, and the ability to come out on the other side with a new name, a new and clearer sense of self and purpose is a vital part of life and Jewish identity!
However, there is another story in this Parshah that is just as important, but much less discussed because it is so painful. This is the story of Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, and what was most likely her rape, and its aftermath.
We tend to stay away from stories like these in our Sacred Texts in Hebrew School because they’re not “child appropriate,” and then we stay away from them in synagogue because they don’t exactly inspire a love of God, and we stay away from them in public discourse, because they feel embarrassing. However, not sharing stories of abuse and violence, covers up that these realities were not only common in Biblical times, but all around us today. The Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai speaks of the consequence of this, beautifully.
“From the Book of Esther I Filtered the Sediment”
From the Book of Esther I filtered the sediment of vulgar joy, [celebrating over the death of our enemies]
and from the Book of Jeremiah the howl of pain in the guts.
And from the Song of Songs the endless
search for love, and from Genesis the [murderous] dreams and Cain, and from Ecclesiastes the despair,
and from the Book of Job: [all of] Job.
And with what was left, I pasted for myself a new Bible.
Now I live censored and pasted and limited and in peace.
A woman asked me last night on the dark street how another woman was
who’d already died.
Before her time—and not in anyone else’s time either.
Out of a great weariness I answered,
“She’s fine, she’s fine.”
I pray that we, as a community, a nation, and a civilization take the steps neccessary to create a world with real Peace, not the censored, pasted, and limited kind… but the messy kind, the kind which involves the courage to face and respond to cruel realities, the humility to admit our many mistakes, and the inspiration to start anew over and over so that we move our society ever closer to true safety, dignity, and equity for everyone.
The news in recent weeks has been full with stories of women with the incredible courage to speak out about the sexual abuse and harassment they suffered, in the face of reprecussions from very powerful men, and a legal system which intentionally or not, allows 99% of perpetrators to go free. Perhaps we are changing the tide of that, but much more likely this depends on what the rest of us do next!
I want to direct you to hear the voices of several amazing Jewish women on this topic. Rabbi Laura Geller writes poignantly about Dinah and the Silencing of Rape Victims and Rabbi Jodie Gordon has put together a study sheet, with Jewish texts as well as personal stories on this subject.
In closing, I share a poem by Rabbi Annie Lewis, in which she imagines what Dinah’s response might be if she knew the courage of those speaking up right now.
Uprising By Rabbi Annie Lewis
Woman sitting by a fence looking upset Me too, Dinah, me too. If only you could see us now, all the great men falling like the idols of your great, great grandfather, egos slain like the men of Shechem. If only you could see us now, your sisters taught to make nice, take care – shouting, me too. No more. All your sisters trained to harbor shame for going out, claiming space, craving more. Because we asked for it so we deserved it. If only you could see us now, Dinah, our truth rising up like song.