Midrash

Midrash is a way of extracting the meaning of a passage in the bible, a type of exegesis. The bible is full of Gaps, things god or the human authors didn’t think to tell us. What did Eve think? What did Isaac think? The bible tells us that Abraham & Isaac went up the mountain. Isaac wasn’t sacrificed, but he didn’t come back from the mountain with Abraham. What did he do for the three years before he resurfaced?

Sometimes the gaps are seemingly small, but the consequences are large. In Judges 11, Jephthah makes a vow to “sacrifice whoever comes out of the doors of his house, as a burnt offering to the Lord.” Whoever can also be interpreted “whatever.” Why is “doors” plural? And nowhere does Jephthah say the first thing that comes out of his house. Later, his daughter (who is unnamed) requests two months to be in the mountains (wilderness) with her friends to “bewail her virginity.” What could possibly have happened in that time?

Traditionally midrash was the turf of rabbis and sages mainly (though not exclusively) between 500 & 1500 CE. In May, I took a class at Earlham School of Religion (ESR) on writing midrash. While there are several styles, mine are mostly in the form of storytelling. I’ll post them here over the next few weeks.

 

Jephthah’s Daughter

Maybe you know about my dad. Or maybe you think you know about my dad. He has his own story in the Bible.[1] The rabbis haven’t really been sure quite what to do with him.[2] They don’t see him as the kind of person god would call to lead the nation, but maybe the rabbis are missing the point. God uses us all to do Hiser[3] work, whether the rest of the crowd thinks “that ain’t right” or not. It is the nature of families[4] that his (daddy’s) story is mine, too. His name was Jephthah.

I don’t have a chapter in the Bible. I’m a girl, and girls have to be (you might say) of mythic proportions to even get a mention, much less a name or a book (like Ruth and Deborah). They didn’t give me a name, the “they” who ghost- wrote my father’s story, even though I might be considered the lead character. They were men. Girls didn’t rate. Most of the time. They didn’t even mention mom. They didn’t even give me a name. So you might think you know my story. Their telling is, um, rather one-sided. I had, no, I have a name. To daddy, I was his little sunshine, his ray of light. He named me Or Nogah.

The storytellers did get some things right. Maybe that’s the purpose of the story. Dad was “the least of these.” His half-brothers ran him out on a rail.[5] He went to Tob, where there is no law and became a badass bandito. Other bad guys recognized him as the baddest and gravitated to him. They’d lay along the side of the road like adders, strike the caravans, and fade back into the desert.

It was in Tob that dad met mom. Her name was Jerioth, “fearful one.”[6] They were married, but it was far from consensual. There was no arranged marriage, no dowry except what dad plundered when he swept through. Mom was one of the things that got swept… up. And, as the storytellers are fond of saying, he took her, and he knew her. I’m here to vouch for that. Growing up in a camp-full of bandits[7] wasn’t easy, but I was the daughter of El Jefe[8] and they knew not to mess with me. You might think that was a terrible way for a young girl to grow up, surrounded by dirt and ruffians, but it made me who I am: a survivor.

Perhaps it was because I was the daughter of their leader, I really can’t say, but those ruffians took me under their figurative wing. They treated me like their own daughter or little sister, their mascot… their good luck charm. They looked out for me. They taught me the tricks of the trade, so to speak.  I learned to be cunning, because nothing was ever given to me. I learned to watch my back, because I never knew who might be plotting to use me to knock daddy out of power. I became a negotiator, a deal-maker, shrewd enough to be sure things always worked out in my favor. “No” was never an option. I would find a way. When I was about 10, life took a turn.

Sihon[9], king of the Ammonites, decided it was a good time to tell Gilead he wanted his land back. Gilead quaked in his sandals, for he had no one bad enough to lead the fight against Sihon. Gilead had heard of dad’s reputation, so he journeyed to Tob with a proposition. “Come and lead the people against Sihon,” he said to dad. Dad laughed at him. But the long and the short of it is that Gilead agreed to dad’s terms and conditions. The spirit of the Lord came upon dad,[10] and he got this kind of wild look in his eye (even for as much of a badass as he was) and said “I’ll take your bet and you’re gonna regret, ‘cause I’m the best that’s ever been.”[11] And dad took the job.

It wasn’t the sort of job he could commute to, so the whole bunch of them pulled up stakes and moved to Gilead. The women and the kids and the animals didn’t really have much to say about it, we just sort of got drug along. Once they got settled, they started to prepare for war. Dad sent Sihon a couple of shots over the bow, so to speak, telling him that this was now Gilead’s land, and had been for some time[12], and if he (Sihon) was smart, he’d just cancel his war plans, because he (Sihon) was going down. So the preparation for war continued. Part of that was daddy talking to God. I heard him praying one day. He said “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s, to be offered up by me as a burnt offering.”[13] I guess he just wanted to seal the deal. I decided his arrogance needed to be tempered a little.

Sihon wouldn’t back down. Neither would dad. Their two armies met out on the plain to play rock, paper, scissors. Silly men and their silly games. Dad’s army thumped the Ammonites. They came back to town whooping it up and I went out.[14] I joined the other women playing my hand drum and dancing in the street. My eyes met dad’s. His face fell and the blood drained from it. The joyful noise of the victory celebration ceased for the two of us. I pretended not to understand. I ran to him and gave him a big hug. From the silence that enveloped us, he confessed his folly.

“Before we went off to battle,” he said,

tears streaming from his eyes,

“I made a vow to the Lord. I said

if you will render me victorious,

whatever comes out of the doors of my house

when we return

I will give to you

A sacrifice

A burnt offering

Of my most treasured possessions[15]

As our fathers were taught so long ago.’[16]

I never thought “whatever” would be you

Jerioth is gone[17]

The thought that I must lose you too

Steals the warm glow of victory

And the color you bring into my otherwise flat, grey life

Light is rendered into shadow

This vow I have made

Just serves to crush my soul.

 

“Nevertheless,”[18] said I,

“We must not irk the ire or invoke the wrath

Of him to whom you made your vow.

The only thing I ask, a small thing at that

Is two months to wander the mountains with my friends

For there are matters laying on my heart

Which can only be shared there.

After which time I will return

And you may do as the Lord has directed you.”

To which my father gave his consent.

 

There were a dozen young women in town I had become friends with[19]. We shared the work of the village: the baking, the grinding, the cooking. As we were not yet married, and thus not encumbered with children, we had a degree of freedom which would vanish as we got older. It was a matter of no small import that all of my friends’ fathers granted them permission to roam the mountains with me. Many bad things could happen to a virgin in the mountains. There were bandits, I knew. There were wild animals. There were threats to our honor, to our fathers’ honor. There were cliffs and chasms and hiding places for evil things. But all of those things could be accommodated. Some could be used to our benefit. The fact that my friends were granted permission was the first sign that our trip into the wilderness was blessed. How else could you explain all of those fathers allowing 13 virgins to wander the mountains for two months?

We traveled light. We depended on the lord, as our ancestors had, done, not so long ago- -also in the wilderness[20]. Had we been men, we might have gone in search of adventure or riches. We were more practical than that. What good are riches in the wilderness? Gold is heavy. Friendship is strong, and it carries lightly on one’s shoulders.

I knew of a high meadow, a place where the sky is so close to heaven that it’s almost black. The grass was green year ‘round, watered by an endless spring that issued from a crack in the rock[21]. The air was chill by day and downright cold by night. There we headed and made camp. And waited.

There was an abundance of quail there, and many kinds of fruits and berries[22]. We played. We frisked. We lolled. For cooking and warmth, we needed only ask, and fire sprang from the ground[23]. We prayed. As a group. Something the rabbis pretended was only the realm of men. Really. The storytellers say we were created equal, man and woman He created them. Some even have us created as one being, man on one side, woman on the other, whom God separated in a divine surgery. God came down and was among us: in the warmth of the fire, in the shine of the sun, in the tickle of the breeze, in the food we were provided. God was there. To our surprise, it was God who started a conversation as we sat in a circle around the fire one evening. We had been gone ten days.

Children, what are you doing in my wilderness

High atop this chill mountain?

A leading question

For god very well knew the answer to his own query.

 

“We come to celebrate the brief life of Or Nogah

A jewel of dew enlivened by your rays

Reflecting all your grace and beauty”

Thus said my friend Ruth.[24]

 

“We also come to mourn the truncation of her life

The result of her father’s rash vow to you

For beloved Or Nogah overheard his words

And knows what lies in store when she returns home,” said she.

 

“Are you not the God of justice?

Was it not you who said on Sinai

‘Thou shall not kill’[25] (each other)?

Are you not the champion of widows, orphans, the stranger… the innocent?”

 

We sat there in the gathering dusk

Or Nogah’s hand drum rested beside the thorn bush[26]

Softly at first, with increasing vehemence the angels struck the rhythm

We danced a dance that spoke of life: firelight and shadow in the encroaching night.

 

Then one night, Dinah appeared to me in a dream. She told me of her work to change society. Violence is never acceptable, she said. Like me, you Or Nogah, have the power to move the world, to change the rules we play- -or are played- -by.

“But I am to be sacrificed to pay for my father’s victory,” I told her. “Satisfaction of the debt, they call it.”

“What did I say? Violence is never acceptable. Another way will make itself known,” said Dinah.

The time passed swiftly. We had many conversations with God. It turned out he wasn’t just in the tabernacle.[27] He didn’t just speak to men, or even just to the elders. Our two months had lapsed. We were bound by our own word to return to the village.

We approached the village. My heart was heavy, though at peace, for I knew that my father would keep his word. Our bodies and souls were well fed. There was no doubt we had been provided for during our time in the wilderness. Later they said we had a… presence.

The next thing we knew, the men were coming out of their houses, dancing and playing their (our?) hand drums.[28] There were cheers and shouting. “The women have returned! They were not eaten by lions or bears! They were not stolen by satan! Praise God! They have returned!” Then there was Jephthah- -daddy- -dark and tall and strong as daddies often are. He hugged me, then held me by the shoulders and gazed at my face. “My ray of sunshine has returned! We must have a feast.” And the storytellers would have it that the feast lasted four days, and is held every year to commemorate our return, and to show appreciation for all that women do[29].

There’s this time with all events,[30] whether a wedding or a funeral, when reality sets in. The guests have gone home. The dust has settled. The house is quiet. It’s just the two- -or just the one- -of you. The terror of life sets in. How will we make it? What have we done, joining our lives? Or the place is crowded with the ghosts of your memories. Everywhere you look there are reminders of her, or him. But now it’s quiet. Even the dishes have been washed. “Daddy,” I asked quietly, “What of your vow?

“Vow?” said he. “You know, it was the strangest thing. You had been gone about ten days and I was visited by an angel. She[31] told me that the vow clearance committee (I didn’t even know there was such a thing) had been reviewing my vow and they hit a legal snag. She said ‘God doesn’t accept human sacrifice.’ So they forwarded the vow to the editorial committee.[32] And the editorial committee asked ‘What is it God wants the most?’ and the answer was ‘love.’ So the vow clearance committee took pen in hand. They struck out ‘burnt offering,’ and added ‘loved and cherished.’[33] So now it reads ‘yada, yada, shall be the Lord’s, to be offered by me, to be loved and cherished for all time.’ My, my. The Lord works in mysterious ways.”[34]

 

Bibliography

Beavis, Mary Ann. “The Resurrection of Jephthah’s Daughter.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 2010: 46-62.

Brown, Meredith. “The Problematic Absence of YHWH in Judges 11:29-40.” The Journal of Theta Kappa Alpha, 2012: 19-30.

Logan, Alice. “Rehabilitating Jephthah.” Journal of Biblical Literature, 2009: 665-685.

Vogel, Dan. “Lord Byron’s Midrashic Lyrics.” Jewish Bible Quarterly, 2009: 24-34.

 

 

[1][1] Judges 11. While not specifically cited, the books we used for class and the essay “Rehabilitation Jephthah,” by Alice Logan were influential in plot direction and development. Also in the background are various midrashim. Other sources not cited but influential are in the bibliography.

[2] The tendency was to blame Jephthah, not God.

[3] In my mind, god has no gender. I am aware of the violence perpetrated in the name of the male deity. “It” doesn’t sound right. I thought I’d play with pronouns: Hisers (his + hers), or Hersis (hers + his).

[4] Gilead may have been a person, or may have been a clan, culture or region, e.g. “house of David.”

[5] Judges 11:2. It was common practice in the US during the 1800s to put “bad guys” on a train to get them out of town.

[6] Women in Scripture, p. 100

[7] The text doesn’t tell us anything about Or Nogah’s childhood, but for her to be 12 by the time Jephthah made his vow, she would have been born during the time between when he was kicked out of Gilead & when Gilead came and said “please lead us.” Then presumably the time between accepting the job & making the vow was relatively short, a year or two.

[8] Spanish, the head or chief.

[9] Sihon was actually king when the Israelites took the land in the first place. The king at the time of Jephthah is not named. .Judg. 11:21

[10] Judg. 11:29

[11] Charlie Daniels Band, “Devil went down to Georgia.”

[12] Judg. 11:12 ff.

[13] Judg. 11: 30-31. The vow does not say “whoever is the first to come out.” In addition, the use of “doors,” (pl.) implies that it was not only the front door. “Whoever” is not gender specific, and is sometimes translated “whatever.”

[14] Ref.: Dinah.

[15] Note plural here

[16] E.g. Exod. 20:24

[17] Killed in a skirmish by an Ammonite raiding party

[18] Parallel structure with Judg. 11:8, where Gilead approached Jepthah.

[19] Number is not specified in the text.

[20] Exodus.

[21] Miriam’s well? Or the rock that Moses smote with his staff? I haven’t decided.

[22] Quail: Exod. 16:13. Berries speak of Eden.

[23] Examples of supernatural activity

[24] WIS p. 146. Etymology: satiation, refreshment. There’s also a little riff on prophetic speech, “thus saith the Lord.”

[25] Exod. 20:13

[26] Exod. 3.

[27] A glimpse of life after the destruction of the second temple in 70 CE.

[28] A little role reversal here. Usually the men went off to battle and the women cheered them when they came home.

[29] Judges 11;40. I have changed the purpose of the custom from lament to celebration

[30] Beware of categorical imperatives.

[31] I think we had discussion in class that angels were always male. Bah.

[32] Proto-Quakers, anyhow. They have a committee for everything.

[33] Per rabbinic practice of changing a word or two.

[34] Jephthah is unaware of why the angel appeared, as we all often are as well.

Gathered or Mourned

We were gathered at Roscoe’s for our usual Friday edition of Happy Hour Heretics. I posed the question: why do you think the men of Genesis were “gathered to their people” when they died, while the women were mourned?

“Well,” said Ben, “while it’s nice to go home again, Thomas Wolfe aside,[1] I’d rather be remembered by those around me than stuck with a bunch of stuffy old fuddy-duddies, if even only briefly. Think about it. Abraham dies. Great man that he was, there’s no mention of weeping or mourning in his obit.[2] And it wasn’t because the men of the First Testament were afraid of looking un-manly because they had tears running down their faces. It is written[3] of Sarah’s death “and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.”[4] And of so great a man as King David, it is written “Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept, until they had no more strength to weep.”[5] Sarah, of course, wasn’t around to weep for Abraham. But it’s plain from the text that people just didn’t cry when the cranky old men croaked. See, it’s written time and again, so-and-so was gathered to his people.”[6]

Xenia[7] said “Ben. You’re like Trump. You never answered the question. The question is, if I heard it right, why do women get the tears & the mourning, and the men get gathered back to their people.”

Ben interrupted. “Yeah I did. Nobody was sad to see them go.”

“Ah,” said Xenia. “Buried that in the text, did ya? See, I got a different take on the whole thing.”

“As if I’m surprised,” sniped Ben. “Let’s hear it. This’ll be good.”

“Yeah. So, the other night, I’m sittin’ in my Barcalounger watchin’ Survivor when Maggie comes in with a legal pad and she’s got the whole front and back of the page filled with ‘honey-do’ stuff and she asks me if I know what I’m doing on Saturday, sort of one of those leading lawyer-type questions like on CSI. I’m supposed to know the answer. I made the mistake of saying ‘tell me.’ And then boy it really hit the fan.” [8]

Ben interrupted. Again. “And this has what to do with the question on the floor?”

“Well, doggone it, if you’d let me finish, it’d be clear as the air in Gary IN in 1968.[9]What I’m saying is that the women were calling the shots. Nothing’s changed in 3000 years. They want a little fuss, they get a little fuss. There’s nothing we can do about it. Think of all those poor old guys getting perpetual exile to Sheol where there’s nothing to do but play golf. Sounds like hell to me. I can’t stand golf.”

“That’s your answer?” said Ben. “The women ran the show and let the men think they (the men) were in charge?

“Yep.” Said Xenia. “Deborah said ‘I want to be buried under that oak,[10]’ and that’s what she got. Rachel said ‘stick Jacob in that cave over there. He can have that kin-thing if he wants.[11] Me, I’ll take the tears.’ And that’s how it turned out, isn’t it?”

[1] Notable for his novel, “You Can’t Go Home Again,” published posthumously

[2] Genesis 25:8

[3] My original idea was for Ben & Xenia to be rabbis & debate why the difference in treatment of men & women. “It is written” is in the style of such debate. Then Xenia went off in a completely different direction.

[4] Genesis 23:2

[5] 1Sam. 30:4

[6] For Example, Abraham (Gen. 25:8), Isaac (Gen. 35:29) and Jacob (Gen. 49:29).

[7] A town in Ohio which sounded like a good name for a character having a beer and talking theology at Roscoe’s.

[8] I’m trying to riff on the idea that the men held the image of power, while the women actually held (much of) it.

[9] The blast furnaces were still running at that time. The sky tended towards orange. On a bad day, you couldn’t see a mile. I recall this from when I was a child.

[10] Ah translation. There are (at least) 2 large, long-lived tees common in the near east: Terebinth is not an oak but is often translated as that. There is a true oak, Quercus Calliprinos, the other large, long-lived tree of the region.

[11] Gen. 49:29

Isaac and Ishmael

This story is often used to validate the conflict between Chrstianity & Islam. With God, all things are possible. Peace, reconciliation, are “things.”   ###

Abraham, the man we called dad, died last week.[1] There’s nothing like weddings and funerals to bring people together. The notices went out: kids, relatives, the twelve tribes, even that other nation. Come together. Celebrate the life of our patriarch. Praise god. Speak of our past, pray for our future. Sometimes they come together in peace. Sometimes it’s more like fireworks. Or sodium and water. Va Voom!

His will named me, Isaac, as executor. Ishmael got in on the late camel. At first, things were a little prickly.

Ishmael burst into the tent without even knocking, dagger drawn.[2] “Well. Nice to see you after all these years in exile (not). I hear dad went and made you executor. You always were his favorite. Now I suppose you’re going to hold it over me, some kind of fraternal ransom.”

“Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Did I say any of those things? I didn’t ask to be executor. Breathe. Take a deep breath. Let it out. Let’s sit and call on God to be present with us as we grieve. He was father to both of us.” Isaac yells “Rebekah, hon. Did you see who’s here? Will you get us some kumquat tea, please?”

The breath of YHWH descends[3] on them. They sit in reverent silence. After a bit, Ishmael asks “Can I give you a hug, brother?” His eyes fill and he bursts into tears. He falls into his brother’s arms and weeps years of grief. They embrace.  “God I’ve missed you. It’s good to be home.” After he collected himself, he continued. “For a long time, it seemed like mom & me got a really raw deal, what with dad kicking us out of the house on those trumped up allegations. We were just supposed to go into the desert and die, I guess. But you know, the human spirit has an incredible will to survive. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and I guess some ways that’s true. It made me tough. It made me able to fend for myself.[4] Word on the street is that, like you, I’m destined to be the father of a great people. There are those who don’t want that to happen. Divide and conquer, they say.

Isaac thought for a while. “I’d like to know you better before I commit to anything. We really haven’t had anything to do with each other since we were little. You used to put scorpions in my bed. Of course, I returned the favor in my own ways. Maybe we’ve grown out of that. Maybe not.

“Life around here hasn’t been all that easy, though nothing like what you’ve been through. Sheep and keeping the books and managing the shepherds. It’s enough to make a fellow go bald before his time. There’s no end to it.

“I had a dream. We chose not to get along. The result was almost constant warfare. Many thousands of lives lost. That’s not the way God created Adam and Eve. We were created in Her image.[5] The commandment reads “Thou shalt not kill.”[6] Then, a week later, I had another dream. This time, we managed to get along. Our peoples traded and flourished. There was long lasting peace. We all worshiped YHWH, though we often called Her by different names[7]. We owe it to the people to give it a try.

In the end, Ishmael wasn’t the wild ass looking for a fight that he’d been painted as[8]. He seemed to realize that the problem was his father[9], not his brother. While there were places they had to agree to disagree, they managed to exist peacefully as neighbors. Isaac put aside his pride. Their kingdoms grew and prospered. Far in the future, they even produced a couple of notable prophets.

Reflection

I believe God wants us to be reconciled, both with Her and with each other, and will give us the means to accomplish that. It won’t be easy. Give and take, listening to varied positions and offering our own in humility, just as the rabbis did, are important steps.

There is a fatalist strand in the debates about the Mid-East conflict these days. The conflict seems intractable. Yet those same fatalists were never shy about saying that with God, all things are possible. “And the people cried out to god, and god remembered them.”[10] The noise of bombs is not what gets Her attention. It is the almost silent prayers of Hannah.[11]

I have been Ishmael, the wild hare.[12] I have been Isaac, who in this case, is seeking peaceful way forward. I have heard the voice of God as I’m pulled in the opposite direction.

[1] Gen. 25:8

[2] While I think there was likely some procedure for asking permission to enter, I doubt it was knocking. Nonetheless, the entrance was abrupt.

[3] I’m thinking here of ruah.

[4] Gen. 16:11-12

[5] Gen. 1:26

[6] Exod. 20:13

[7] Allah and YHWH. The dreams are after the manner of Pharaoh’s dreams of the fat cattle and the thin cattle in Gen. 41.

[8] According to Nancy Bowen, a “wooden” (literal) translation doesn’t hint at violence between their nations. A literal reading is “his hand in all…he shall live alongside his kin.”

[9] Sarai actually, Gen. 16:9 Ishmael is not yet born, but is aware of the conflict.

[10] E.g. Exodus 2:24

[11] Bronner, p. 95

[12] Onager, actually.

Mrs. Job

The text in the Book of Job tells us very little about Job’s wife. Who was she? how was she? Here’s a little trip behind the scenes.

I like to think I’m as god fearing as my husband. Something’s going on here, and I’m not sure what. The house fell on the kids. It killed them all.[1] What’s up with that, God? You’re so righteous. You know Job puts you first in everything you do[2]. So, Mr. “I’m the omnipotent ruler of the universe,” where are you when we need you? Why? Why have things gone south? I really liked our cushy lifestyle[3]. Now I’m childless, there’s no money for groceries, and I’m in rags out begging for bread. I know in marriage we’re in it together, but whatever kind of deal he cut with you, I want no part of it.

You know I love him, but what can I do for him when he won’t take action to help himself? He just sits out there on that dung heap[4] and does this Eyeore imitation, and I have to say he’s pretty convincing. Wounded male syndrome, I call it. He gets a sniffle and wants me to believe he’s at death’s doorstep. Well, he looks to me like he’s actually at death’s doorstep[5]. Won’t you give me some insight into how to at least give him some comfort? I offer him a blanket. He refuses it.

Sometimes you just have to take matters into your own hands. He wouldn’t help himself, so I started to pray. And I prayed so hard I sweated blood. I prayed like Huldah when she was barren. And God responded. Imagine that.

He said (for he was in a “he” shape at that moment) “Yeah. Well. I was playing rummy with Satan the other night. You guys were the pot. And wouldn’t you know it, the little bugger cheated. I knew the cards dealt, and he still got gin before me. So man up[6] and deal with it.”

“Oh, really,” I said. “So that’s how you roll. You give me a crack at Satan & I’ll knock him out of the park. Just work with me here, will ya, Lord?” Next thing I know, there’s a vacuum cleaner salesman knocking at the door. Polyester suit, straw-brimmed hat, like he was from a barbershop quartet. He was the first attempt. I put up a sign “No Solicitors[7].” Only I guess it should have said “No solicitation.” That was quickly followed by phone marketers. I got on the “Do not call” list. Plainly the frontal attack was a war of attrition. Something creative was needed. Play to his weakness, they said. Which was… deception. I hatched a plan.

“Satan’s plumbing,” a pleasant voice answered. “How may we help you?”

“My kitchen sink drain is plugged. It’s a disaster. Poor little ol’ helpless me, I can’t do a thing with it. Can you send the boss right over?” I simpered.

“Well, yes, as a matter of fact he’s in the shop right now. But he’s not cheap. He only takes payment in souls,” replied the sweet voice. “No credit. Payment at the time services are rendered. You sure a plugged drain is worth that?”

I pretended to consider for a moment. “Yes. Yes, we used to have so much, but now a plugged drain is the only thing we have left. It’s cheap at half the price. Yes, please send him over. It’s 316 John[8] Pl., downtown.” And after a bit, the doorbell rang and there he was. Dressed as a plumber. I put on my best helpless act and took him to the kitchen. He burrowed in under the sink and started right in, tearing things apart. It was then I gave him a quick shove in the butt with my heel, slammed the cupboard doors shut and slid a spatula through the door handles. He’s there for the ages.

“There ya go, God. Thanks for the inspiration. Tell Job it’s all going to be OK.”

[1] Job 1:19

[2] Job 1:8

[3] Job 1:2. Job was a wealthy, powerful man. It is easy to become accustomed to the perks that go along with that.

[4] Testament of Job

[5] Job 2:4-7. All that people have, they will sacrifice for their lives.

[6] Job 38:3 and 40:6. Really, God?

[7] i.e. lawyers

[8] For God so loved the world….

Dinah (Based on Genesis 34)

It’s been a long time since my mother, Dinah, confided to me why it was that she went out to see the women of the land[1] on that fateful day. It was a way of making things right, things that had their beginning years before.

Grandpa told me about how he met Rachel at the well one day, and moved the stone so she could water her father’s flock[2]. He worked seven years to earn the right to wed her[3], and then her sneaky father[4] substituted Grammy for Rachel and he had to work another seven years because he still wanted Rachel and he wasn’t crazy about Grammy[5]. Grammy’s a sweet, wise, caring woman but somehow Grandpa couldn’t warm up to that, no matter how she tried. She gave him sons, three of them[6]. And Mom[7]. Surely he should have loved her for that: kids are a blessing, are they not? She never really asked for more than that, to be loved. Even that was too much, I guess.

Somehow mom could never do anything “right enough” and either Grammy or grandpa or both  of them would give her a cuff on the noggin. And sometimes Grandpa would hit Grammy. It seemed to be how they solved their problems. It seemed to Mom that there must be a better way. Maybe it just started as getting away from the toxicity of home life. By the time she was 12, she’d put on her head scarf. Grammy would ask her where she was going. She always answered with one word: “out.” So it almost became one of those inside jokes families have. One of her brothers would ask where Mom was and the response was always “Dinah went out.” Mom told me where she went, once I got old enough.

There was something about her eyes[8] that allowed her to see how people really were, what was in their hearts. She knew how Grandpa treated Grammy, and how they both treated her (Mom). And she saw it in her friends and their parents. She saw it whenever she went out. So she prayed about it. “Elohai![9] what I see around me is not the way you will us to live together. Am I really to be the dutiful, obedient daughter in such conditions? And since I have a hunch that the answer is ‘no,’ what would you have me do about it? I am just a young girl. How can I change the world I live in?” She prayed because that was what was in her heart; I don’t think she really expected a response.

Then one night an old woman, dressed in rags, appeared to her in a dream. The woman was stooped with age. Many of her teeth were missing. Dream woman spoke in a foggy voice like breath, that coated what it touched: YHWH. She told mom to go out, to talk to the women in the community. To tell them that women were created equal to men. She was to start a grassroots organization to respond to family violence, to collaborate with each other for, said the old woman, isolation is deadly. There is no lack of work for the brave woman, Dinah. And you are that woman. Next morning Mom went out.

###        ###        ###

Activists are often threatened and/or intimidated. Mom was attacked by a stalker named Shechem. She became swept up not only in family violence, but cultural violence as well. She found herself with child and named me Hamor[10].

 

[1] Gen. 34:1

[2] Gen. 29:10

[3] Gen. 29:18

[4] Laban, Grandpa Jacob’s uncle. Gen. 29:10

[5] Gen. 29:23-27

[6] Gen. 29:32-36

[7] Gen. 30:21

[8] 29:17. The text says “lovely.” The footnote to the text says “Heb.: meaning uncertain.”

[9] My god. (Thank you Nancy.)

[10] My grandfather on my father’s side. I had hoped to work more of Mom’s rape into the story & then have it be part of her motivation in this work of education & solidarity she’s been given. Perhaps a future midrash.

Snake (Genesis 3) Posted 6.12.17

It has been said that the snake is the craftiest of animals[1]

That it was the deception of the snake

Which led to the expulsion of the humans from paradise

I am said serpent, here to clear my name from slander.

For it was the sloth of the humans,

The ease with which they were tempted

Which caused their so-called fall.

The world, even at the beginning, was an inherently dangerous place.

Temptation lay in the soil, waiting to sprout

Perhaps I served as a catalyst

But a catalyst only serves to speed a reaction which would occur naturally on its own.

There is more to the story than has yet been told.

I will admit to a mischievous streak, which a certain angel was able to tap into.

He came to me on a hot summer afternoon as I lay sunning myself on a slab of stone

And proposed a wager: if I could get them (the man and the woman) to eat the fruit of a particular tree, he would grant me legs upon which to walk.

And I? How could I refuse such an offer? For slithering is so slow and limiting.

What could the downside possibly be? We would have some fun.

The humans would get wise (so he said), his boss would cut him a nice bonus, and I’d get legs out of the deal.

I approached the woman first, though she stood together with the man[2]

She seemed the kinder and gentler of the two. Perhaps more curious and open to new ideas, as well

We raptly gazed at the tree in the center of the garden.

The long rays of the evening sun filtered through the leaves and gilded the branches.

Silver etched the margins of the leaves.

The fruits were like none anywhere else in the garden.

A particular ray of sunlight struck a particular fruit in a particular way.

They later called the fruit an apple.

It winked.

I nudged the woman. “Did you see that?”

“See what?” she queried

“That fruit, the one struck by the golden rays of even’ time, it winked at me,” I said.

“No way,” she said.

I was about to make counterpoint when It[3] spoke.

We were startled. The woman heard it too. The man, though, was looking at his reflection in a mud puddle, picking at a bit of mango fiber between his teeth.

We paid full attention.

“You know that you were created in the image of Me[4],” It said.

“You have a choice to make. You may eat of this shining fruit that is Me. Your lives will be miserable but you will come to know my consort, Sophia, and I will live in your hearts[5]. Or you can choose to be like him (and the apple nodded toward the man). Forever.”

If you’re reading this, you know which was chosen.

So, you see, my plan with the angel never even got to unfold.

Claiming contract non-fulfilment, the angel refused to grant me the promised legs

And, like me, the woman gets a disproportionate share of the blame.

There is more than enough to go around.

[1] Gen. 3:1

[2] Gen. 3;5

[3] “It” was the start of a sentence. Editing moved the clause “It spoke.” Capitalized, in this instance, It implies that God has a hand in this acquisition of wisdom. I.e., “It” wanted us to gain wisdom and was actively involved in getting us to accept this gift.

[4] Gen. 1:26

[5] Jer. 31:33