The Rape of Dinah

It is impossible not to pay attention to the story in this week's parasha about the rape of Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob who is mentioned. The text is clear that Shechem, a son of the Hivite tribe, sees Dinah, takes her and 'lays with her by force'. Such an offense, in the biblical world, brought guilt on his tribe, and it was customary at that time (and still, today) that the violation of a virgin was to be avenged.  The story presented here is gruesome and deeply disturbing: Dinah's brothers use guile to slaughter Shechem and all the males of his village.  It's an awful read, and one which our tradition tries to ameliorate with convoluted interpretations.  But, sometimes, we just have to confront the story and call it out for being an abomination. 

What is deeply concerning is that Dinah's father, the patriarch Jacob, says nothing when he learns about the rape.  The text says that he 'kept silent until his sons came home [from being out in the field] (Genesis 34:5). He says nothing. Nothing. And when the dastardly deed is done, and his sons have committed a mass slaughter, his only response to them has to do with how he will now be considered in the eyes of the other tribes. In other words, he is more concerned with his reputation for the slaughter rather than the act itself (not to mention that he becomes wealthier by the deed, as the sons bring back the women and children as slaves. ugh). 

We are all deeply immersed in the endless revelations about sexual harassment in every aspect of society. It is safe to assert that every single woman (and some men) on this planet is part of #metoo. And it is the silence around the assaults that is the most disruptive.  Saying nothing, even when knowing that an attack has occurred, pours hot sauce on the wound. Saying nothing keeps men who are moved to say something, silent. Saying nothing keeps us women bound into layers and layers of internal dialogue, trying to dismantle the grip in which harassment holds us.

Jacob, despite his designation as one the patriarchs of the Jewish people, is a scoundrel, and every year, I am deeply disturbed by his status. Some of his sons continue in his vein; others are able escape the family inclination to deceive in order to achieve.  

So why study this? Precisely because it sickens us and presents us with a mirror of our own times. Precisely so that we can be frightened by what vengeful men who have weapons and a feeling of superiority can do in the name of 'justice'. So that we become highly sensitized to the outrage in order that we can do the opposite of the story: to insist that this narrative becomes something of the past, and work together, men and women, to make sure that rape and the revenge that follows, is a thing of the past. What will this require? Wrestling until we defeat the scourge.  May it be so. 

Elul: first week

The first faint sliver of the new moon is about to become visible, and it is an auspicious ‘moonth’ that is upon us: The month is called Elul, is the month before Rosh Hashanah, and is a time of sacred study and reflection. Each weekday, following morning services, we blow the shofar, and hear the ram's horn call out to us, in its primal abrupt manner, “Wake Up!"

As many of you probably know, the word Elul is an acronym, (spelled alef-lamed-vav-lamed), standing for Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li, "I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” from the text of the Song of Songs.  Why would this month have that name, and why from that text?  One answer is that, as we begin to sift this past year through the lens of self-critique, we want that sifting to occur within a loving, compassionate relationship, and not one that is punitive and scolding. The Song of Songs is a celebration of a loving, lusty relationship between grown-ups.  It is characterized by a yearning to see the beloved’s face, and to feel the closeness that is possible between people, or, as the Rabbis understood it, between Gd and the Jewish people. Thus, while we are charged during Elul with relentless self-examination, it occurs within a relationship that is thoroughly grounded in compassion and a desire to return to a life that is unencumbered by callous and witless behavior.

I find that we are all accustomed, from a very young age, to begin new things in the fall: school, jobs, or merely that our outdoor chores shift from planting to harvest (and lots of garden cleanup!).  How wonderful it is that we are given an opportunity, through the work that is available to us during the month of Elul, to ‘change the spark plugs’ in our spiritual and ethical selves.  To arrive at the Rosh Hashanah services without doing some of this preparation  can render that experience rather hollow and unconnected to our deeper selves.  

And what is our work?  Identifying and reconnecting to the standards by which we yearn to live; thoughtful consideration of how we have strayed from that path; and planting the seeds for our spiritual and behavioral renewal. This is the essence of the High Holiday season.   When one genuinely grows, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz teaches, one’s personal truth must surpass all one’s previous truths so that, by comparison, they are truths no longer.  Teshuva  (from the Hebrew word, to return) demands that we pursue our individual truth at all times.  Our goal is to always aim for greater heights of awareness that must be manifested in our actions, and to be constantly struggling and striving to do and be better.  It is not enough to just be.

I look forward to this journey that we’ll take together over the next 4 weeks, when the new moon of Tishrey will appear in the sky. As we gather for  Rosh Hashanah, we’ll meet in the natural beauty of Rock Point, made holy by our presence and our commitment to our teshuva. If I can answer any questions you might have, about the holidays, other things Jewish, or for support in your inner work, please contact me by phone or email.
Rabbi Jan