Friday, December 26, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayiggash 5775–Rule #2

It’s an old adage, that appears in many variations:

Rule #1: [X] is never wrong

Rule #2: When [X] is wrong, refer to Rule #1.

In this week’s haftarah, we encounter just such a situation. Ezekiel’s prophecy does not prove true. So the rabbis tweak the meaning to fit the reality. Ezekiel clearly predicted the re-unification of all the tribes of Israel.

In this haftarah, from Ezekiel 37:15-28, the prophet is instructed to take two sticks, and write upon one of them "Judah and the Israelites associated with him" and upon the other "Of Joseph-the stick of Ephraim-and all the House of Israel associated with them." Then he is told to "bring them close to each other, so that they become one stick, joined together in your hand." (JPS translation.)

    וְאַתָה בֶן־אָדָם קַח־לְךָ עֵץ אֶחָד וּכְתֹב עָלָיו לִֽיהוּדָה וְלִבְנֵי יִשְרָאֵל חֲבֵ֯רָו וּלְקַח עֵץ אֶחָד וּכְתוֹב עָלָיו לְיוֹסֵף עֵץ אֶפְרַיִם וְכָל־בֵית יִשְרָאֵל חֲבֵ֯רָֽו
    וְקָרַב אֹתָם אֶחָד אֶל־אֶחָד לְךָ לְעֵץ אֶחָד וְהָיוּ לַאֲחָדִים בְיָדֶֽךָ

It's a powerful metaphor - the sticks representing the peoples of the two Kingdoms - Judah and Israel - with G"d, through Ezekiel, foretelling their return to Zion from exile.

No "lost tribes" in this story. G"d tells Ezekiel that all the people of the covenant will be gathered from where they have gone and brought together in their own land, and make of them one nation, under one King. And then G"d promises (v. 22) "Never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms."

    וְיתִי אֹתָם לְגוֹי אֶחָד בָאָרֶץ בְהָרֵי יִשְרָאֵל וּמֶלֶךְ אֶחָד יִֽהְיֶה לְכֻלָם לְמֶלֶךְ עָשִוְלֹא יִֽהְ֯יֻה־ עוֹד לִשְנֵי גוֹיִם וְלֹא יֵחָצוּ עוֹד לִשְתֵי מַמְלָכוֹת עֽוֹד

I guess we can consider the promise half-true - the people were returned from exile in Babylon and thereafter were one nation, but, in effect, still only the nation that was the southern kingdom, Judah. We don't really know how many, descended from the tribes that made up the northern Kingdom of Israel might have been among those who came back to a restored Jerusalem and

For the rabbis, the idea that Ezekiel was wrong was too much to entertain. So they reinterpreted Ezekiel’s vision in a non-literal manner as referring to a reunification of the people with G”d and Torah. Rule #2.

In modern times, some see Ezekiel’s prophecy as referring  to the reunification of Jews in the Diaspora with the land of Israel. Given that Ezekiel’s original intent was very much centered on a restoration of a united Kingdom of Irael, under one King, with a restored Temple, that’s not too much pof a stretch.

Also, in a broader interpretation, some see it as a prophecy of the reunification of all Jews, of all stripes, everywhere – traditional and liberal. From our mouths to G”d’s ear, it should only be.

OK, let’s play the rule #2 game. Ezekiel cannot have been wrong. The Joseph story is largely about insuring the Divine plan is followed to its inevitable conclusion. (Never mind that we have to undergo several centuries of enforced servitude in Egypt.) Joseph’s reunification with his family is inevitable, and a necessary part of the story, for all of “Israel” must come down to Egypt in order for the story to progress as ordained.

Could the Diaspora, the foundation of a modern state of Israel, the establishment of re-interpretative forms of Judaism, all be part of the plan? Is an eventual schism between the traditional and liberal streams of Judaism (khas v’khalil) inevitable, and part of the Divine plan, which will eventually lead to the true fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy when we are all again reunited as one? Will the lost ten tribes be part of the reunification? (The Mormons and he British Israelites would love that.) Does G”d consider the Christians and Muslims errant children as well, eventually to be reunited as one Israel under one King? (I say this as gadfly and as mere speculation.Do notice that I did avoid suggesting that the Shoah was in any way part of the plan-the Shoah was humanity’s doing, not G”d’s. On the other hand, is it possible that the modern state of Israel seems to have some moral and ethical failings of its own part of the plan – and will it yield an eventual chastisement of medinat Israel for its sins? Not something I wish to see happen, but since we’re speculating, we might as well go all the way.)

History is replete with prophecies that didn’t quite come true as expected. It is equally replete with apologetics for these unfulfilled prophecies. (It is also replete with prophecies that were never meant to be prophecies at all, but were simply eisegeted right out of the text to serve the purposes of particular people. As they say, the Mayan’s  probably just ran out of room on the calendar wheel.)

As human beings, we do tend to see things through very short time spans.  That Ezekiel’s prophecies have not yet come true of these few thousand years is, on the time scale of our planet, our universe, dare I say, of G”d, insignificant.  So yes, the hope that rule #2 will still prove true remains, if we but adjust our time scales.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have all practiced forms of rule #2. So many times in their histories, adherents believed that prophecies were speaking of imminent happenings. When, as is it is to be almost invariably expected given our limited life spans, prophecies fail to materialize quickly, we just as quickly turn to an “immanent” explanation. This has become our most eminent explanation.  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Rule #1 – I never make bad puns.

Rule #2 – When I make bad puns, refer to rule #1

So let’s close with another version of the rules

Rule #1 – There is no rule #2

Shabbat Shalom,

©2014 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Vayiggash 5774 - We Are Shepherds
Vayigash 5773 - Let's Be Judah
Vayigash 5772 - Redux & Revised 5760 Teleology 101: Does G"d Play Dice With the World
Vayiggash 5771-Being Both Israels
Vayigash 5769 - He's A-Cookin'-a-Somethin'-A-Up
Vayigash 5768 - G"d By the Light of Day
Vayigash 5767-Two Sticks As One?
Vayigash 5765-One People
Vayigash 5763-Things Better Left Unsaid
Vayigash 5761/5766-Checking In
Vayigash 5762-Teleology 101: Does Gd Play Dice With the World?
Vayigash 5764-Incidental Outcomes and Alternate Histories

Friday, December 19, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Miketz 5775–Assimilating Assimilation (Redux 5763ff)


I’ve recycled this musing, first written in 5763 (2002) numerous times. It is always an appropriate discussion around Hanukkah, as both during Maccabean times and in the Yosef story, we struggled with assimilation. Maybe that's not such a bad thing.


Random Musings Before Shabbat-Miketz (5763)

Assimilating Assimilation

וַיִּקְרָא פַרְעֹה שֵֽׁם־יוֹסֵף צָֽפְנַת פַּעְנֵחַ

Vayikra Paraoh sheim-Yosef Tzafnat-paneiach....Pharaoh gave Yosef the name Zaphenath-paneah. (Gen 41:45)


וַיִּקְרָא יוֹסֵף אֶת־שֵׁם הַבְּכוֹר מְנַשֶּׁה כִּי־נַשַּׁנִי אֱלֹהִים אֶת־כָּל־עֲמָלִי וְאֵת כָּל־בֵּית אָבִי: וְאֵת שֵׁם הַשֵּׁנִי קָרָא אֶפְרָיִם כִּי־הִפְרַנִי אֱלֹהִים בְּאֶרֶץ עָנְיִי

Vayikra Yosef et-sheim hab'chor Menashe ki-nashani Elokim et-kol-amali v'et kol-beit avi. V'et sheim hasheini kara Ephraim ki-hifrani Elokim b'eretz mitzrayim... Yosef named the first-born Menashe, meaning "Gd has made me forget completely my hardship and my parental home, and the second he named Ephraim, meaning "Gd has made me fertile in the land of my affliction." (Gen 41-51-2)

Yes indeedy. Yosef was having a grand time being vizier of Egypt, wearing Egyptian clothes, adopting Egyptian customs.

Assimilation. Almost seems like a four-letter word, an obscenity. At this time of year, as we celebrate the victory of the Maccabees in their guerrilla war against the Syrian Greeks, fighting against the assimilation of Jewish culture, it is brought even more into focus as something that Jews should loathe.

[Remember this was first written in 2002 – yet it still seems to be the case:] The latest Jewish population study adds fuel to the fire of those who rant and rave against the scourge of assimilation. Our numbers are dwindling, they cry, and we must guard against the evil of assimilation which will reduce our numbers even further. (Of course, this entire argument is wrapped up in the "who is a Jew?" debate. It would seem that both traditional and liberal Jews are beginning to realize that rules of strict matrilineal descent may actually be a hindrance to Jewish survival. And there is now great discussion about whether one can define a Jew by birth or by praxis. Personally, I side with those who favor praxis, but with some misgivings. One may be a Jew by descent, but if they practice nothing of the faith, do we count them as a Jew? However-what level of praxis becomes the definition? We have secular Israeli Jews who claim no religious practice yet often keep kosher, light Shabbat candles, etc. Perhaps living in the promised land itself is enough to qualify them, especially with the sacrifices that requires these days? [Again, a lot has changed in the last 11 years. More and more, our community is struggling to define what it means to be Jewish, to live a Jewish life. Added to these issues now, more often, is the question of institutional affiliation and its efficacy (and necessity) for establishing and maintaining a Jewish life. People are discovering all sorts of new ways to be Jewish, to do Jewish, to live Jewish, to feel Jewish, many of which are in places and settings other than synagogues and JCCs or work done through Jewish agencies and organizations. The most recent Pew study continues to provide fuel for the continuing discussions.

And so now I must ask the question [now as well as back in 2003]-is assimilation the evil it is portrayed as?

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary ( ) has these definitions for "assimilate":

1 a : to take in and appropriate as nourishment : absorb into the system b : to take into the mind and thoroughly comprehend 2 a : to make similar b : to alter by assimilation c : to absorb into the culture or mores of a population or group 3 : COMPARE, LIKEN

And gives its etymology as being from the Latin assimulare to make similar.

Cells assimilate nourishment, and thus are able to survive. The same can be said of cultures and religions. Assimilation may not be the great evil, and could even be a savior or redeemer instead.

Judaism has surely grown and benefited from assimilation over the years. There is even the radical suggestion that the Jews actually borrowed the idea of monotheism (or at the very least monolatry) from the Egyptians during the brief reign of Amenhotep, which overnight transformed Egyptian religion to the worship of one deity (only to have the whole idea thrown out by his son and successor.) Moshe gets some of the underpinnings of the legal and Judicial system from his father-in-law, a high priest of Midian. The Jewish ideas of haSatan, an adversary, and of mekhayyei hameitim, the resurrection of the dead, and messianism itself, may have assimilated their way into Jewish culture from Zoroastrianism and other belief systems of the ancient near east. Who knows what we assimilated into Judaism while in Babylonian captivity that we now think of as normative for Judaism. Gobs of important Jewish scholars and texts were influenced by the Islamic cultures of their times. We were certainly nourished by that bit of assimilation. In more modern context, we have the Chasidim who still insist on wearing the coats and hats of Polish nobility, the Chabadniks who sing a niggun based on Le Marseilles. We have Yiddish and Ladino. We have things like the Center for Science and Halacha. And, being partial to contemporary Jewish music, look how much great new music (and great old music) is the result of assimilation from contemporary cultures. Technology, the internet, the web, computers et al. Even the most orthodox of Jewish communities has assimilated those pieces of modern society.

Judaism has adopted pieces of modern psychology, and of self-help programs. (Needless to say, as I've often pointed out in these musings, modern psychology, self-help and twelve-step programs have certainly liberally assimilated ideas from Judaism as well.)

Whether for good or bad, we've certainly assimilated a fair share of capitalism and American-style democracy into Judaism. Similarly with the idea of rabbis being preachers from the pulpit. Somehow, the once-a-year sermon model we used to employ might be favored by many!

No doubt, there is lots in contemporary culture that we might not benefit from assimilating. The Jews in the time of the Maccabees would likely have not benefited from the forced assimilation of Syrian-Greek religion (but who's to say that they wouldn't have benefited, and indeed, did benefit, from other aspects of Syrian-Greek culture? Not every assimilationist became apostate.)

I'll raise one point which is likely to raise some hackles-but I'll say it anyway. As liberal Judaism seems to have failed to retain it as the traditional communities do, and seems disinclined to borrow from our traditional co-religionists, perhaps we ought to assimilate more of the fellowship, camaraderie and haimishness found in the communities of the dominant Christian culture here in the U.S. In a funny way, we'd be assimilating back something we probably lost through assimilation into a society where the Kitty Genovese story can happen [yes, we now know the story is more myth than reality,] where people don't talk to each other in Subway cars and elevators, and where so many people are out for themselves first and foremost!

And what has all this to do with parashat Miketz? Well, a good part of the Yosef story is about Yosef living in and adapting to Egyptian culture. He survived assimilation with his Judaism intact. And we can do the same. What sustained Yosef was his faith, his belief in Gd. This he never abandoned, just as Gd never abandoned him although his brothers surely did.

If Yosef can do it, so can we. We can assimilate the best of modern culture into our lives and keep our Judaism alive-if we can keep our faith alive. (The question of secular Israeli Jews who still maintain some elements of praxis without subscribing to the particularistic trappings that Jewish religious practice demands raises an interesting conundrum and may challenge my idea. They may profess no religious faith. If they assimilate, can they maintain their Judaism, thus showing a flaw in my theorem? Perhaps. I don't want to develop this argument more fully yet-though my earlier reference to the special nature of simply being a Jew living in eretz may have something to do with it all.)

I think fear of assimilation may be overblown. Stopping assimilation may be no panacea for Judaism's dwindling numbers. There is much that I admire in traditional Judaism, and much that I believe liberal Judaism has foolishly cast aside. Yet I think traditional Judaism's fear of assimilation may be their undoing. By the same token, there is the possibility that some liberal Jews have embraced assimilation altogether too much, and that may be their undoing.

There is a middle ground. It is the path blazed by Yosef and so many others. By assimilating that which from our surroundings can truly nourish and enrich us, while maintaining in our deepest core that essence of faith that keeps us Jewish. Yosef knew that it was G”d, and not Yosef, who could truly interpret Pharaoh's dreams.

Together we can face assimilation by embracing it, controlling it as a useful tool, rather than fighting it as inherently evil. Making it such an evil gives it more power than it really should have to defeat us. Let us be wise, as wise as Shlomo (Solomon), whose wisdom is portrayed in the traditional Haftarah for 2nd Shabbat in Chanukah, I Kings 3:15-4:1 (and which Reform tradition sadly abandons for the articulate and detailed description of the dedication of Shlomo's temple. That's a change I'm still trying to figure out.)

So let us be wise. Let us assimilate assimilation into who and what we are, as we have done so often throughout our history. Like Yosef, may we be the richer and more successful for it. For it is through faith in Gd that we will be sustained. As Zechariah wrote, and as we read in last week's Haftarah: "lo b'chayil v'lo b'koach k'im b'ruchi... Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit..."

Shabbat Shalom v'Chag Urim Sameach,

©2014 (parts  ©2002 by Adrian A. Durlester)

Other Musings on this parasha:

Miketz 5774 - To Sleep, Perchance to Dream
Miketz 5773 - B'li Meilitz
Miketz 5772 - A Piece of That Kit Kat Bar
Miketz 5771-What's Bothering...Me?
Miketz/Hanukah 5768 Learning From Joseph and His Brothers (revised from 5757)
Miketz 5767-Clothes Make the Man?
Miketz 5766-Eizeh Hu Khakham?
Miketz 5757& 5761-Would You Buy A Used Car From This Guy?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayeishev 5775–Seriously-Who Was That Guy?

I first asked this question in a musing 9 years ago, but it has also been asked by countless others, including our greatest scholars, for thousands of years.

A little bit of the story. So, like, Yaakov/Israel gives his favorite son Yosef this really cool coat. (We've been over the bad parenting technique thing before, so we'll skip that. Playing favorites like that is such a good idea, right?)

Yosef then proceeds to further alienate his brothers by describing these dreams in which they all bow down to him. Even Yaakov/Israel is a little put off when Yosef's second dream also includes his parents bowing down to him along with the brothers. And, as the text tells us, Yaakov  shamar et hadavar, he remembered this thing, he kept it in mind.

And the next thing you know, he's sending Yosef out to check on his brothers who are out pasturing the flock. Can't help but wonder if there's a connection with the previous verse. Was Yaakov hoping to see Yosef get a little comeuppance from his brothers? Was it all a set up? Would Yaakov really do that to his favorite son? All interesting things to explore, but again, I'm going somewhere else today.

So Yosef reaches the fields near Shechem and before he even has a chance to discover that his brothers aren't around,

וַיִּמְצָאֵהוּ אִישׁ וְהִנֵּה תֹעֶה בַּשָּׂדֶה וַיִּשְׁאָלֵהוּ הָאִישׁ לֵאמֹר מַה־תְּבַקֵּֽשׁ

"Vayimtza'eihu ish, v'hinei to'eh b'sadeh, vayyishaleihu ha-ish leimor mah-t'vakeish."

"a man came upon him wandering in the fields. The man asked him 'what are you seeking?' "

Yosef responds that he is looking for his brothers, and wonders if the man knows where they are. The man answers that the brothers have gone from this place, but he heard them talk about going to Dothan. And so Yosef heads to Dothan, where his brothers spy him coming, and proceed to throw him in a pit. And he gets sold. And he winds up in Egypt. And he serves Potiphar. And he won't dally with Mrs.. Potiphar, so she screams "rape" and Yosef is put in prison. G"d favors Yosef even in prison and he manages to thrive. He correctly interprets the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker. Yadda, yadda, yadda. And we wind up in Egypt and we get freed from Egypt and get the Torah and yadda, yadda, yadda.

All on account of this one man. Possibly. Yosef, having not found his brothers, could have given up and gone home. Then again, knowing as we do that all of this was part of G"d's divine plan, when G"d was yet again thwarted by this free will thing, I doubt G"d would have given up, and still somehow have managed to make the whole darn series of events happen. So, while some rabbis and scholars like to think of this man, this ish, as crucial to the story, suggesting perhaps the man is an angel or other divine messenger/steward, he might no be so essential to the story--it just might have turned out a little different. Would the butterfly effect have ensued? How different would Judaism be today as a result? Hard to predict or even know. And if it really all was part of some grand design, G"d could have tweaked things as necessary.

Rashi is absolutely convinced the “ish” is the angel Gabriel, based on another verse in which Gabriel is referred to as “ish” (Daniel 10:21)

Ibn Ezra says the “ish” was no angel, just a  person who happened to be passing by.

Nachmanides (Ramban) takes it further, arguing that this was not an angel, just a man, but there to fulfill G”d’s purpose (i.e. the man was there through G”d’s direct desire to guide Yosef to the fulfillment of the Divine plan.) I suspect this is perhaps an unspoken but understood (or implied) thought on the part of Ibn Ezra. The Ramban explains that it is because this “ish” was there to fulfill a Divine purpose that some referred to him as an angel. (This perhaps tells us that the custom of referring to living people as “angels” for their good natures and characters is much older than we think.)

All three sages were attempting to explain why this line is even here. Their basic answer is that it is there to illustrate that G”d was taking an active role in a plan.

Yet, despite the title of this musing, for me, the “ish” being essential to the story is not what matters to me, or what intrigues me. What has me thinking are those simple words he said to Yosef- "mah t'vakeish?" What are you looking for? Seeking? Searching for? He could have said "Whom are you seeking?" but no, he said "what." What are you looking for, searching for, seeking?


Is that not the essential question that all spiritual seekers must ultimately confront? If this ish, this man, is truly some sort of angel or divine messenger, then might not this question be of even greater import than it might appear in the context of the story? It is said that we should take the entire Torah as context. This being so, perhaps these are the most significant two words in all of the Torah. Can we even begin to unravel the meanings of all the rest of the Torah until we know what it is that we are looking for?

Of that I am not certain, for sometimes the true learning form Torah comes from the serendipitous, or in those moments when we shed our preconceptions, our desire to know what it is we are seeking and allow ourselves to be led down another path that might eventually alter the answer to that very question.

Talk about the power of words. Two little words. Mah-t'vakeish. I could easily spend the rest of my life thinking about them. I know they will occupy my Shabbat, and perhaps yours as well.



Shabbat Shalom,


©2014 (portions ©2006) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings On This Parasha

Vayeishev 5773 - K'tonet Passim
Vayeishev 5772 - The Ram's Horn Rag
Vayeishev 5771-Ma T'vakeish?
Vayeishev 5768 - Strangers Walking Together
Vayeishev/Hanukah 5767-I Believe in Miracles
Vayeishev 5766-Who Was That Guy?
Vayeshev 5761 - In Gd's Time
Vayeshev 5765-Mikol HaMishpakhot HaAdamah
Vayeshev 5758-What's Worth Looking After

Friday, December 5, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat - Vayishlakh 5775 - No One's In the Kitchen With Dinah (or Eric or Michael)

Some years ago in these musings, I wrote a little ditty based on the tragic story of Dinah. In the story of Dinah, true justice was not served. The revenge of Dinah's brothers involved trickery and excessive violence. In the current climate, given the recent failures of two grand juries to properly allow the course of justice to be pursued in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, it seemed appropriate to revisit it.

(to the tune of "I've Been Working on the Railroad")

I've been reading from the Torah,
all the livelong week
I've been reading from the Torah,
in the hopes I'll get a peek
Of the secret hidden meanings
found between the lines
Yet they somehow still elude me,
I can't see the signs

Torah please reveal,
Torah please reveal
Torah please reveal your secret truths
Torah please reveal,
Torah please reveal
Torah please reveal your truths

Shechem thought that Dinah was lovely
So he went and took her like a prize
Dinah's bro's said "this ain't a problem"
If you goys all circumcise," we're singing

Oy, oy, oyddly doy doy
Oy, oy, cut off your diddly oy doy oy
Oy, oy, oyddly doy doy
So the goys got circumcised

I've been reading from the Torah,
all the livelong week
I've been reading from the Torah,
in the hopes I'll get a peek
Of the secret hidden meanings
found between the lines
Yet they somehow still elude me,
I can't see the signs

Torah please reveal,
Torah please reveal
Torah please reveal your secret truths
Torah please reveal,
Torah please reveal
Torah please reveal your truths

While the Shechemite men were healing
While they all were resting in bed
Some of Dinah's brothers came stealing
Into town and killed them dead, they're singing

Oy, oy, we got our revenge
On those lousy Shechemites
Oy, oy, now us all will dread
Mess with us you'll wind up dead

I've been reading from the Torah,
all the livelong week
I've been reading from the Torah,
in the hopes I'll get a peek
Of the secret hidden meanings
found between the lines
Yet they somehow still elude me,
I can't see the signs

Torah please reveal,
Torah please reveal
Torah please reveal your secret truths
Torah please reveal,
Torah please reveal
Torah please reveal your truths

When the deed was done they told Jacob
And an angry scolding to them he gave
For what they'd done to his reputation
And not their murd'rous acts so grave, he's singing

Oy, oy, look at what they've done
How am I supposed to do business now
My ferkhakhte sons must be crazy
Their deeds I can't disavow

I've been reading from the Torah,
all the livelong week
I've been reading from the Torah,
in the hopes I'll get a peek
Of the secret hidden meanings
found between the lines
Yet they somehow still elude me,
I can't see the signs

Torah please reveal,
Torah please reveal
Torah please reveal your secret truths
Torah please reveal,
Torah please reveal
Torah please reveal your truths

In the sturm und drang of our story
There is one voice that we've not heard
Didn't anyone ask Dinah
Of what she thought there's not a word, she's singing

Oy, oy, don't they want to know
What I'm thinking, how it makes me feel?
Oy, Oy, they do not seem to know
That a woman's pain is real!

[adding these verses for 2014]

Ferguson and Staten Island are quite far apart
Yet, in both of these locations, somehow justice fell apart
"Hands Up!" "We Can't Breathe" they're calling
Rise up together as one
Justice, justice, no more stalling
'Til the work is done!

All across the land
Let's stand hand in hand
As we work to make this country safe
People everywhere
Let's show that we care
All lives matter equally, we're singing

No more Eric Garners
No more Michael Browns
For the sake of all in our nation
We will not stand down, we're singing

Hands Up! We Can't Breathe
Hands Up! We Can't Breathe
Hands Up! We Can't Breathe...
This is not America!

Well, I could go on...but I won't. It's silly, and almost trivializes what is otherwise a most troubling piece of Torah text-the story of the rape of Dinah, and the revenge done by her brothers, as well as the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of policeman. It's no laughing matter. Two wrongs simply never add up to a right, and in this case, we have wrongs compounded upon wrongs compounded upon wrongs, ad nauseam. Over the years, in writing about this parasha, I've taken all the parties to task: Shechem, for his impetuousness, and for being a rapist. Jacob's sons for the deceit, trickery, and murderous deeds. The good people, the Hivites of Shechem, for their casual willingness to be circumcised whether it was truly in repentance for what Shechem had done to Dinah, or simply in order to satisfy their own lust. Jacob, of course, for caring not so much about what had happened, and who had done what, as he did about what it did to his reputation, and his ability to conduct business with the people in the region.

As for Michael Brown and Eric Garner, what can I say that hasn't already been said? Enough is enough. I am proud of the people of our country who are standing up in protest in cities from coast to coast. Something is not right in the country, and it's not going to get fixed until the people demand it.

In my musings, I've never really tackled the Dinah story. There are interpreters of Torah who fault Dinah by interpreting the text to imply that Dinah was out where she shouldn't be, or being flirtatious. How typical of the generations of misogynist redactors and interpreters of this sacred text to fall back on a "blame the victim" mentality. Others ask us to place ourselves in the values and ethics of the time when the story is taking place. I reject both of these whitewashings categorically. Historically, we're far too good at apologetics.

Similarly, there are those who blame victims like Michael Brown and Eric Garner for their deaths. There are those who say that race is not the issue. I reject these whitewashings as well. Like the story of Dinah, the deaths of Eric Warner, Michael Brown, and so many others are irredeemable stories.

As you may know, I am particularly fond of working to redeem so-called irredeemable texts. I've found no footholds at all in this story other than the classic "well, it's a great lesson on how not to behave." I don't find that satisfactory. The only place left for me to turn is to Dinah. Yet she is absent from the text.

Prone as I am to inventing creative midrash, as I have done so often in these musings, I do not feel I can legitimately do so in this case. It's not that I can't imagine what Dinah might have felt and thought--I surely can. It's that I don't feel qualified, as a male, to even try to put words in Dinah's mouth, thoughts in Dinah's head, and feelings in Dinah's heart.

Great female scholars and writers, like Anita Diamant, Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Phyllis Trible, Drorah Setel, professor Renita Weems (from whom I was privileged to learn at Vandy) and so many others are far more qualified and capable to imagine Dinah's viewpoint.

So my challenges to myself and to you (whether you are male or female) this Shabbat are:

1) to seek out the feminist and women's commentaries and interpretations of this biblical story (along with others) and see if they help bring any greater insight into why this troubling text is part of the canon. (See below for some references.)

2)work together to help us find redemtpion for the troubling stories of the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and so many others.

Shabbat Shalom,
©2014 (portions ©2007) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha: