I’m sorry, but I just can’t divorce what I am reading in this week’s parasha, Lech Lecha, in light of all the recent revelations of sexual abuse by the powerful in the arts and media (and other industries.)
How are we supposed to deal with a text in which, in order to save his own skin, Avram-soon to be Avraham – pleads with his wife Sarai – soon to be Sarah – to pretend to be his sister. His logic is so misogynist as to be painful. My wife is so beautiful, the other men will not be able to resist wanting her. They will kill me so they can possess her for themselves. If she pretends to be my sister instead, they won’t bother trying to get me out of the way. Of course, the remaining unspoken part of that logic is that the Egyptian men will still have their way with Sarai, they just won’t have to kill Avram in order to do so. He’s okay with that, apparently.
Does Avram really understand the enormity of what he is asking his wife to do? Of course, we do need to consider the situation in view of the ethics and morals of that time, and not necessarily those of our own times. Or maybe we should? It seems not much has changed in the ensuing millennia. Women are still looked upon by far too many men as simply playthings, conquests to be had.
By simply chalking this up to the differing ethics of Avram’s time, we succeed only in whitewashing the misogyny. We don’t know how Sarai/Sarah felt about being asked to do this. The Torah is silent – in fact – Sarai/Sarah is given little voice, except when it is convenient to portray her as frivolous and a liar when she laughs at the thought of her husband, who probably hasn’t been able to get it up in years, actually impregnating her. It is Sarah that receives G”d’s tokekha. Did Sarai/Sarah acquiesce to Avram/Avraham’s demand because she loved him enough to to place her own virtue below the life of her husband? Did she acquiesce because she felt she had no choice? Was it something else in between those extremes, or something entirely different? Was she a calculating woman who saw that debasing herself could enrich her husband, and that ultimately her debasement would be trumped by the wealth and lifestyle they would share? How long would she have been willing to play out this farce, had not G”d outed her by punishing the Egyptians?
Somehow, Pharaoh finds out that Sarai really is Avram’s wife. The Torah is also surprisingly silent on how that little tidbit came to be known. What caused Pharaoh to put two and two together and blame recent misfortunes on his having taken Sarai as a wife? A world of possibility exists in between the lines of the Torah. did someone tell him? Did he catch Avram and Sarai meeting secretly? Did one of Pharaoh’s courtiers, or one of his other wives somehow catch wise?
Later on, uncomfortable with her having failed at her wifely duty to bear a son, she offers her husband her handmaiden. When her handmaiden Hagar gets preggers and starts to act a little uppity (at least from Sarah’s perspective) she mistreats her. Avram punts (or considers dealing with emotional women-y stuff beneath him) and leaves things in Sarai’s hands. Hagar runs away, only to be told by G’d “get your tuchis back to your master, and just learn to deal with your mistress’ harshness.” Yay, G”d. Not.
It’s a regular soap opera, isn’t it?
Gotta give some props to Avram. Though he is not specifically quoted as saying anything in Torah, one can reasonably infer from verse 17:20 that Avram wanted to be sure that Ishmael, as his son, would be blessed by G”d, as in that verse G”d promises to heed Avram’s request to make Ishmael the father of a great nation, along with Avraham’s yet to be conceived and born son through Sarai-now Sarah.
Perhaps G”d asked Avraham to circumcise himself as a bit of a mea culpa? Though after Avraham and Ishmael, most everyone else gets circumcised at 8 weeks. (Let’s not get ahead of ourselves with the Dinah story just yet. Yaakov turns out to be an even bigger misogynist.) Missing from Torah are what were likely Avram’s true words: “You want me to cut off what?”
Yes, the Torah is not history. It makes no claim to being a true and accurate portrayal of the values and mores of the civilizations of which is speaks. Just as recent scholarship has shown the early Egyptian dynasties to be far less oppressive and demagogic than they are usually portrayed, the society of biblical times must have been far less as troubled as the one the bible actually portrays (or, for that matter, could be a lot worse.) The Torah is using story to teach. Makes one wonder why it is teaching us such troubling ethics and morals, why it has a G”d that is prone to emotion and tantrums. Or is the Torah exaggerating the bad things in order to cause us to react to them, to say to ourselves “that isn’t right, we shouldn’t be like that?” Wouldn’t be the first work of a religious (or other) nature to purposefully try to piss us off in order to provoke a reaction. Negative psychology, perhaps? Ah, but I fear that this is wishful thinking, and the misogyny and other troubling ethics and mores we find in Torah really is there because that is how those who composed and redacted this story really felt things should be. Who really knows? And that’s the joy of it – we don’t. We were given a Torah with lots of missing things, lots of difficult to understand things. Why, it’s a bit of a mess, thank you, G”d, or whomever is responsible for this.Then the rabbis and gedolim came along and said “hold my beer.”
©2017 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other Musings on this parasha:
Leḥ Leḥa 5777 - Embracing the Spirit of Avram
Lekh Lekha 5776 - The Other Siders (Redux 5766)
Lekh Lekha 5775 - More Nodding Heads, Whistlign Airs, and Snickersnees
Lekh L'kha 5774 - Theistic Singularity: Revisiting the Intellectual Ekhad
Lekh Lekha 5773 - The Journey Continues
Lekh Lekha 5772 - Out of Context
Lekh Lekha 5771 (5765, 5760) Things Are Seldom What They Seem An Excerpt from the "Journal of Lot"
Lekh Lkha 5770 - Revisiting the Ten Percent Solution
Lekh L'kha 5769 - Of Nodding Heads, Whistling Airs, and Snickersnees
Lekh Lekha 5768 - The Covenant That (Almost) Wasn't - Excerpts from the Diary of Terakh
Lekh Lekha 5767-Penile Pilpul
Lekh Lekha 5766-The Other Siders
Lekh Lekha 5765 - Redux 5760
Lekh Lekha 5764-Ma'aseir Mikol-The Ten Percent Solution
Lekh Lekha 5763-No Explanations
Lekh Lekha 5761-The Intellectual Echad
Lekh L'kha 5758-Little White Lies