Facing & Resisting the Streaks of Violence within Judaism

Amalek & Mass Murder: Baruch/Aror Goldstein

[This essay is an excerpt from Chapter 13 of Godwrestling -- Round 2  by Arthur Waskow( Jewish Lights Publ).

For me,  dark and bloody Torah came on a spring morning in 1994.

 I had just awakened from a pleasant sleep after celebrating the raucous, rowdy, hilarious, spring-fever Purim festival the night before. Purim is intertwined with the Scroll of Esther, in which a pompous king and a wicked prime minister are ultimately outwitted by a wise Jewish courtier and a courageous Jewish queen.

 

At one level, the story is about a genocidal threat aimed at the Jews. By echoing an earlier genocidal threat from the tribe of Amalek, the story turns the danger into an archetype. To this threat the Jews respond with diplomatic wisdom and, ultimately, a delicious revenge.

 

At another level, the story is a joke: What you intend to do to me, that’s what happens to you. So, the wicked Haman would hang the Jews? He ends up swinging from his own gallows. So, the pompous king refuses to take orders from a woman? He ends by doing exactly what his Queen tells him to do.

 

When I say the Scroll of Esther and the Purim festival are “intertwined,” I am choosing my words with care.  In the official version of Jewish history and ritual, the story of Queen Esther led to the celebration of Purim. Today, most scholars think it went the other way: A ribald festival of early spring was justified by a jokey novelet: the Scroll of Esther. All agree that the two are intertwined.

 

From the easy laughter of a Purim evening —reading the Scroll of Esther with its scathing humor aimed at kings and ministers; rattling my noisemaker at every mention of the name of wicked “Haman”; joining in the bawdy plays called “Purimspiels” that poked fun at rabbis, Torah, Jews, at God’s Own Self for choosing to be absent from this book — from all this, I woke to hear the radio:

 

 Some religious Jew named “Baruch” (“Blessed”) had walked with a machine gun into the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron, the Tomb of Abraham and Sarah, and there had murdered thirty of his cousins, the children of Abraham’s other family, who were praying prostrate on their faces. 

 

From behind.

 

At prayer.

 

For the sake of God.

 

Yes, for God he killed them, for the God to whom they were at the very same moment praying. Killed them because it was Purim, the moment when we are to remember to blot out the name of Amalek, the archetypal murderer who had assaulted us from the rear, killed us when we were helpless.

 

He turned his gun into a midrash.

 

The Talmud says that on Purim, we are to get just drunk enough to not know the difference between “Blessed Mordechai” and “Cursed Haman.” Between Baruch, Blessed,”  and Aror, “Cursed.” For Purim is the day of inversions, inside-outs, of turning the world upside-down. Hilarity and grotesquerie.

 

This man had become so drunk on blood that he could no longer tell the difference in his own identity between Baruch, Blessed, and Aror, Cursed; between becoming the murderer Haman and becoming the healer Mordechai.

 

And he had made his gun into a midrash. A brilliant midrash.

 

I lay in bed, drowning out this new name of Amalek as it came pouring from the radio, saying,  shouting, screaming, wailing, “No no no no no no no.”

 

Twenty-five years of joyful prayer and midrash, shattered with one gun and thirty lives. Twenty-five years of hope and anger, grief and loneliness, rolling the spiral of the Scroll, walking the spiral of the festivals, learning the Hebrew puns that point the path to Torah meaning.

 

No no no no no no no

 

The Black Hole of Torah, sucking in all light, all meaning.

 

At last I got out of bed. I called my children, my friends, my teachers, my students. We began to weave a counter-midrash, a weave of tears and healing, not of blood and bullets. For it to have power may take years, decades, centuries in which it grows from seed to sprout to Tree of Life.

 

The Amalek Within

 

       But we began. On the very day of Bloody Purim, we began. We said to each other, We will have to understand “Amalek,” the archetype of genocidal hatred, in a new way.  For the Purim story does not stand alone. Jewish tradition connects it with a story from the Exodus and Wilderness: A nation named Amalek attacked the Jews from the rear, killing the women and children who had been placed there for safety. The Torah teaches that Jews must forever remember to blot out the memory of Amalek. Haman. Torquemada. Hitler. They are all Amalek.

 

       Of course, after the Nazi Holocaust —  the Holocaust from which no Esther saved the Jews —  this archetypal myth of disaster bit home with intense cruelty and fear. Suddenly, Jews for whom the Amalek story had become somewhat quiescent, became attuned to it.

 

       And then came the long, complex, and deadly struggle between the national movements and hopes of the Jewish and the Palestinian peoples. In that struggle, some Palestinians became terrorists. Some Palestinians called publicly for the State of Israel to be shattered. So for some Jews, all Palestinians become Amalek. We must "blot out" their memory.

 

       What does it mean to blot out their memory? To Baruch/Aror Goldstein, it meant murder. He had guns and police protection; he had power. He could make the fantasy come true.

 

       But "blotting out the memory of Amalek" must come to mean something other than murder. The key to a deeper spiritual understanding is to see that a spark of Amalek may arise not only in outsiders and enemies, but also in ourselves.

 

Within days of the Purim massacre, two women who had been deeply engaged in the struggle to create a feminist Judaism pointed toward new meanings for Amalek. 

 

Barbara Breitman, drawing on her own experience as a psychotherapist, asked us to look carefully at the key command. It has two parts, she pointed out: First, "Remember what Amalek did to you." Then, "When your God brings you safely into the land, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek."

 

First, she said, the victim must fully recover the memories of victimization and abuse. Then, when we are no longer weak and powerless, when we are "safe in a good land," we must no longer be obsessed with Amalek. For it is exactly an unrealistic and obsessive fear that will drive us to desperate acts -- indeed, into acting like Amalek.

 

Rabbi Tirzah Firestone pointed out that Amalek was a descendant of Esau — that grandson of Abraham who was cheated from the birthright and the blessing that would have let him follow in Abraham's footsteps. Amalek, she suggests, is part of our own family, the residue of rage that sprang from Esau’s grief and anger. Amalek is always a possibility within us, as well as within others. The Torah is teaching that even as we face the danger of an Amalek without, we must also blot out the urge to Amalek within ourselves, by turning that urge toward compassion.

 

These teachings showed us where to begin. Then we said to each other — :

 

       We will have to read the Scroll of Esther in a new way. In its last passage,   we chant verses of triumph when the Jews kill 75,000 of their enemies. So long as we understood the whole Scroll to be a fable, we could live with this bloody denouement as the angry fantasy of a powerless people: Just once, they could destroy not only those who seek to kill them but everyone who ever sneered at them.

 

       What does it mean to reread the Scroll? At the first level, literally to chant it in a different way. We must take the verses of destruction and read them in the wailing chant of Lamentations that is traditional for the verses that describe our fear of our own destruction.

 

       But “rereading” must go on at other levels, too. What shall we do when some people think the story must be acted out? What spiritual and ethical dangers do we run when we are powerful but pretend to be still powerless?

 

       We were powerless for a long time. Indeed, the last time we found a new Torah hidden in the white fire of the Scroll, it was precisely a Torah for living powerless, landless, bodiless, yet skilled with words. So one of the new elements that demands we search again for new Torah hidden within the old is precisely the reemergence of a Jewish people — in Israel and in many communities throughout the world — that can have a say in the politics of life. Count up the coinage of a political power that has no precedent in Jewish history: one of the dozen strongest military forces on the planet; a strong political presence, greater than our number by proportion, in the world’s one superpower; enough clout in what was the Soviet Union to challenge its might with nonviolent courage and make the first cracks in its Goliath armor; half a dozen prosperous communities in prosperous countries scattered round the globe. We face a new Jewish reality, and so  we need to create a new Judaism.

 

Renewing the Fast of Esther

 

We will have to understand Purim in a new way, and yet an old way, rooted in the Fast of Esther that Jews used to observe during the daylight hours just before Purim. They fasted in memory of the fast that Esther undertook as she wrestled with her fear of Amalek. We too  must fast to face the danger of Amalek — the Amalek that comes from within and without, that crouches in every human being and in each people. In a year when Muslims had murdered Jews in the name of God just as a Jew had murdered Muslims, we could see that Amalek lurked in every people.

 

So we began to see there was a profound wisdom in the rabbis’ prescription of the Fast of Esther. All fasts require self-control. On the eve of the very festival when the rabbis taught us to loosen self-control, they also taught us to remember it. They knew that hilarious playfulness is one necessary step on the spiritual path, when the distinctions between Blessed and Accursed must collapse, But perhaps they glimpsed the danger that when the clear and solid boundaries collapse, a flood of blood might be released. So they gave us first a day to confront this “shadow” within Purim.

 

There is an old rabbinic pun. Occasionally, in Hebrew, the Day of Atonement is called Yom HaKippurim. Someday, the Rabbis said, Yom HaKippurim would be like the Day of Lots, a Yom Ha K’Purim, a day like Purim. When Messiah comes, they said, the day when we need to atone for our sins would dissolve into a day like Purim, a day beyond sin because all sin would be transcended. Of all the holy days, they said, only Purim would still be celebrated after Messiah comes.

 

But the equation is also true in reverse. There must be an element of Yom Kippur in Purim, and that element is the Fast of Esther.

 

The Fast of Esther could become a time for us to meet with other communities and face our nightmares about each other. In our neighborhood of Jewish renewal in Philadelphia, one year after the Purim Massacre in Hebron, on the evening before the Fast of Esther was to begin at daybreak, Jews, Christians, and Muslims gathered to look at the nightmarish teachings of each of our traditions and to examine how to move beyond them. Then we sang our different chants for each other, read the Psalms that delight all three traditions, fed each other bread and the fruit of the vine and touched each others’ foreheads with the oil of anointing.

 

Then we went home to sleep, to wake, to fast in memory of Esther.

 

The Presence of an Absence

 

But for me, the night before the fast was haunted by the absence of the Holy Presence. In all the Scroll of Esther, the Name of God is never mentioned. Some people have argued that God is present in a hint of Mordechai’s: He teaches Esther that if she will not act to save the Jews, their salvation will come from another place. A Place, say some: a hidden Name of the God Who is the Place of the world. But for others, it is the name of Esther, which in Hebrew echoes the words “seter,” and “nistar” the words for “hidden,” that really tells the story. Just as Esther hides her Jewishness, so God hides in the story.

 

In the midst of restless dreams of emptiness, arising from the darkest place of massacre close to the end of the Scroll, I saw a not-vision and heard a not-voice:

 

And then appeared Darkness,

 

Her Head wrapped in mourning,

 

Her tallit all black,

 

Her Place only Absence,

 

Nistar b’nistar:

 

 

 

Her Voice was a Silence:

 

”I came to defend you,

 

My people beloved;

 

I strengthened your hand

 

to beat back your foes;

 

But then you betrayed Me.

 

For your hand became frenzied,

 

You struck down the harmless,

 

You struck down My children

 

While they reached out to Me.

 

 

 

On the day of rejoicing

 

You hollowed My Name;

 

In My Own Tree of Life,

 

You hollowed out life,

 

left only a mocking

 

pretense of My Self.

 

 

 

And I see -- yes, I see --

 

That in days still to come

 

Your deeds will give warrant

 

To a child of your children,

 

To murder your cousins,

 

The children of Ishmael,

 

The children of Abraham,

 

In the Place of his grave,

 

On this day of rejoicing.

 

 

 

So My Name I withdraw --

 

Yes, My Name will be hidden,

 

Nistar b’nistar;

 

 

 

For I will not permit you

 

to call out from this Scroll

 

My Name on this day.

 

 

 

Yet I teach you that Purim,

 

Alone of the seasons,

 

Will continue beyond

 

the time of Messiah.

 

 

 

On the day that both families

 

of Abraham's offspring

 

turn away from their murders,

 

their murders of each other,

 

on that day will my Name

 

take its Place in the Scroll.

 

 

 

 On that day Purim

 

and Yom Ha’K'Purim

 

at last will be one.

 

 

 

On that day, at last,

 

This Purim will lead you

 

And light up your way

 

to the Days of Messiah.

 

 

 

On that day all the nations

 

will  laugh and will dance,

 

will turn robes of power

 

into masquerade mirth;

 

will turn every gun

 

to a clackety grogger.

 

 

 

On that day will My Name

 

Take Its Place in the Scroll

 

In letters of Light.

 

 

 

I awoke to turn this Black Hole of the Torah, the Hidden God, into these words of a promise of new light. Then at last I felt free to celebrate Purim: to laugh and somersault, to turn the up side down; for then I knew that washing away the boundaries of rules would not bring on a flood of blood and murder.

 

Hearing Torah, Weaving Torah

 

In these two moments of darkness — not from them, but within them — I glimpse new Torah: from the first, a Torah that women are empowered to shape; from the second, a Torah in which the Jewish people is empowered in the world and so can create, must create, Torah for a people no longer slaves and outcasts.

 

A new Torah: frightening words. How could we do this without coming out the other side as a new people, a different people, not the Jewish people?

 

We have done it before.

 

When the Rabbis shaped the Talmud and the Jewish people accepted it as a “macro-midrash,” they told of a new Torah that was also old — the Torah of the power of the mouth, spoken at Sinai but never written on the parchment. What this “new Torah” accomplished for the Jewish people was putting great emphasis on certain parts of Torah that had been barely explored, while turning away from vast quantities of Torah as if they no longer mattered. Conquest of the Land, eradicating the peoples of idolatry, carving out the architecture of the Temple and the choreography of sacrifice, the seven-yearly rhythms of the restful land: All these were put aside. The rules that governed the seventh day of rest and the rules of kosher eating were much more fully explicated. Without erasing sacred texts, the community let what had come to seem irrelevant or abhorrent fade from vivid color to pale gray.

 

This new rabbinic Torah operated in thought the way a spiral operates in space: it curved back so that it could curve forward. By doing this in thought, it expanded the spiral of Jewish time from the small curves of week and “moonth” and year and Jubilee into the great spirals of eras and millennia.

 

Even in the earliest shaping of the Torah, there are some hints that Israelite culture was spiraling back-and-forward, making midrash on the pre-Torah spring festivals of shepherds and barley farmers to redefine itself through the great Torah epic of the Exodus from slavery and the Pesach festival that sealed it into memory.

 

We know much more about the transformation from biblical to rabbinic Judaism, and the rabbis’ use of the great myth of  Sinai’s “oral Torah” to make their own macro-midrash possible. It is not clear whether the rabbis themselves believed that myth. They told a story about Moses: Peering from Paradise into Akiba’s classroom, he did not recognize a word of Akiba’s Torah until Akiba said his Torah came straight from Moses’ mouth. Then Moses “recognized” Akiba’s Torah!

 

That story hints that some of the rabbis understood that the myth of oral Torah was true — and not true — at the same time. Perhaps the story was very sophisticated indeed, and intended to teach that the words, the content, of Akiba’s teaching were totally new but that the process of the teaching was very old. In any case, many Jews accepted the truth of the notion of a double Torah, written and oral, that came from Sinai.

 

Could we again use that myth of oral Torah to explain why and how we are making what seems to be new Torah? Not in the same way.  For us, it is neither authentic nor truthful to assert that the new decisions we are making about the content of a Sacred Path “really” came by word of mouth from Sinai. Yes, for many of us there is an archetypal truth in saying that the midrashic process of creating Torah is very ancient. So in that sense the process we are joining came “from Sinai.” But for me, there also needs to be a sense of where the content comes from, and how our changing it is rooted in our own Jewish encounter with the Spirit: in Godwrestling, in being and doing Yisrael.

 

When I began to wrestle, I did not ask this question; I just enjoyed the wrestle. Even as I wrote the original version of this book, I took the process itself for granted. I felt deep joy in the way we worked with our lives and played in the Torah from Shabbat to Shabbat. But now, perhaps because I have lived this way for two decades, perhaps because those decades demanded that I keep my eyes open when the Torah turned dark, I have found it necessary to ask myself:  What is this Torah that I wrestle with?

 

That question is essentially the question that I think Jacob faced. Can I turn my struggle with the Torah into a deeper Wrestle, as he turned his struggle with his brother into a deeper Wrestle?

 

Two experiences come to me of an opening, a birthing in my sense of Torah. The first was reading with delight the insights of a poet, historian, and theologian of Jewish renewal, Joel Rosenberg of the Boston havurah. Rosenberg took up the layers of thought about the Bible that have emerged in the last 150 years. First was the discovery of the German historical linguists that the text of Torah can be unraveled into several different documents: J, E, P, D they were named, each letter corresponding to an author: the one who liked to name God JHWH, the one who liked to name God Elohim, the writer of Deuteronomy, and the Priestly author. The German scholars said there was also R, the Redactor or editor, who brought it all together.

 

There was intense argument in the Christian and Jewish worlds about whether to accept this “documentary hypothesis,” and if so whether it shattered the faith and meaning of biblical religion. Then, in Germany between the world wars, the great Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig said (I am paraphrasing): “I too can see the different strands of the Torah literature. But I must add something else: this R, this Redactor, is also “Rabbenu,” “our teacher”  — as Moses is called “Moshe Rabbenu, Moses our teacher.” For the Redaction is what counts. The text we have that weaves all these different strands into a single Torah, this is what counts. This finished fabric is the Revelation with which our Jewish faith engages. Truthful history does not destroy that engagement. ” This outlook became the approach of many Conservative Jews.

 

And then in our own generation, along came Joel Rosenberg to carry this discussion to a new level. (Still paraphrasing:) “Yes,” he said; “I agree with the documentary historians and with Rosenzweig as well. But I ask myself, why did the Great Redactor, our ‘Rabbenu,’ not weave the fabric so well that we would not see a seam here, a tear there, a patch in many places?”

 

And Rosenberg answered, “Because the deepest revelation was the knowledge that there are many strands. Imagine if someone gives you a perfect shimmering robe, a faultless piece of pottery. What can you do but put it carefully on the shelf to be admired? But give me a  shirt that’s beautiful and slightly torn, colored a little oddly, and what I do is get to work. I make the shirt more beautiful; I get my hands into the process.

 

“That,” said Rosenberg, “is the work of a God I’m glad to know. A Creator Who demands that I join in co-creating, a Torah-teacher Who insists that I join in teaching Torah. Writing Torah. Of course there are many voices in the Torah, and of course both God and the Redactor/Rabbenu want me to hear the many voices — not just one. The Infinite Voice speaks out in many voices — or It isn’t Infinite.”

 

For many years, this fed my mind and I thought I was satisfied. Then I found myself engaging in a process so similar to the one that Rosenberg described that I understood in the kishkes, not just the mind, what Torah was and is.

 

Voices in the Family

 

This was, in fact, my experience with my brother, seen in a new light, felt at a new level. When we wrote our book together, we did not try to smooth it out into a single voice. Instead we heard in it at least five voices: my own and his own; mine-in-dialogue-with-his and his-in-dialogue-with-mine; and the voice of our editorship, the Redactor, the two of us when ultimately we had to be a single voice deciding together which of our several voices would get to appear at any moment. And what the order and the architecture of the book would be.

 

Our differences in voice were serious, even though we came from a single womb,  a single house, a single economic depression and world war. Looking out from the same front porch at one same block of Cottage Avenue, we saw around us different worlds, and we told different stories.

 

Once I had done this, I heard Torah in a deeply different way. I welcomed the kingly voices along with every prophet, the ones who danced the God of drumming rhythm and the ones who shouted out the God of overturning, the cheats and murderers and gentle meditators, all of the family voices.

 

Not all. I missed the women, the converts, the voices of gay men. And the horrid children. The woodcutter who was stoned to death for breaking Shabbat — how did the family feel to him? And I missed some voices the stories barely mentioned: Mathematicians. Clowns.

 

These were the voices of my own generation. Once they were in the story, it would need a new Redactor.

 

And once the world quakes, we need a new Redactor. A new Talmud, as we did when the Mediterranean shook.

 

There are two ways to look at why we need to unearth  “new Torah.” One is to look at the big world, the great earthquake. The other way is to look at the people who are caught in the earthquake. Both are important.

 

From the standpoint of the big world, the world where there is no “standpoint” because there is nowhere firm to stand, the process I am suggesting is analogous to what Jews did during the seven centuries between 200 BCE and 500 CE, when they acted out and wrote down the Talmud. Just as Jews then faced an earthquake —the great flood of Hellenistic/ Roman ideas, a world economy, a military conquest that culminated in the destruction of the Temple, the decimation of Judaea, and the dispersion of the Jews—so, too, we now face an earthquake in the life of the Jewish people.

 

We have been "conquered," our life‑spaces "occupied," by Modernism—including industrialism, nationalism, individualism, corporate capitalism, state socialism, mass democracy, the mass media, total war. Some of this we have liked and might well incorporate into our own tradition, as the Talmud tamed and incorporated aspects of Hellenism. But modernism culminated in three events for which the community and its traditions were utterly unprepared: the Holocaust; the creation of the state of Israel; and in America, a new kind of Diaspora in which Jews have full permission to be both citizens and Jewish. Moreover, our world is one for which the tradition is utterly unprepared because worldwide annihilation of the human race and the biosphere itself are achievable; because instant communication between any two human beings anywhere is possible; because __________ __________ ___________ _________  ________ ______________ _____________ ________________ __________

 

Fill in the blanks with almost anything.

 

What has happened is that we exercise powers we previously ascribed to a God outside ourselves have flowered from us: powers to create, shape, change, destroy. Powers women did not have, powers Jews did not have, powers humans did not have — we now have. God’s Own Self has appeared in another Place. And that has changed so much that our stories of how we wrestle God must also change to be truthful to that newness.

 

What does all this mean in what we might, if we dared, call “God’s life-cycle?” Not only in the history of concepts of God, Names of God,  but in the biography of the real God, Whose Names change because God’s life changes.

 

The One Who said to Moses at the burning bush, “My Name is ‘I Will Be Who I Will Be, I Am Becoming Who I Am Becoming’”: What is happening in the life of that God?

 

Toward a New Talmud

 

To this question we will return. Meanwhile, what about ourselves? The world in which we live is so utterly different from that in which the Talmud was our portable constitution that it is clear we need a new effort to dis-cover, uncover, new Torah. Not only the content, but even the process of our "Talmud" will have to be different.  Not an elite of rabbinic adepts, but the whole community will be part of the discussions that work out our new life‑practice.

 

Not that we will ignore either the content or the process of the Talmud. We will keep drawing on its content in many areas where the very texture of present Jewish culture grows from Talmud. We will draw on all of Torah in the broadest sense: not only the Bible and the Talmud, but also everything the Kabbalists and the Hassidim,  Maimonides and Freud, the secular Zionists and Yiddishists and the new Jewish feminists have said.

 

All of it can change, and still it is our story.

 

But does it become Torah just because it is our story? Is the Hebron Massacre Torah? Is the Torah’s triple rape of Dina Torah?

 

Yes. And no. All the strands need to be visible, no matter how ugly in my eyes or yours.  And we also need the Voice that unifies. That connects. That says the “All” is not yet the “Whole,” the Harmony. That insists we weave new strands to repair what is torn, and turn the jagged murderous pieces into bright warning banners.

 

One aspect of the new Torah that we make in every era is that we take what has become  dangerous and destructive, and learn from it instead of using it. That is what we did, for instance, with the lamb of the Passover sacrifice.  We spent 2,000 years sacrificing a lamb upon the Altar for Passover, and then we spent the next 2,000 years just setting a bone or a beet on the Seder plate — not even eating lamb for Passover, not even lifting the bone from the plate lest someone think we had used some other altar to sacrifice a lamb. We kept the memory alive, precisely as a midrash — a teaching of why we do not do what we used to do. And so we kept it All, in all its buzzing contradictions,  — and yet turned them into a Harmonious Whole.

 

When I recall the despair of the woman who said the Torah was still raping her, when I think of gay men and women who say they can hardly bear to keep reading Leviticus, when I think of how I myself felt that Purim morning of the Hebron massacre, I realize why we need new Torah at a more personal level.

 

If we want to keep the Jews Jewish, we need to reach a new starting-place with Torah, as the Talmud was a new starting-place. If we want to keep ourselves Yisrael, wrestling God and Torah, we cannot forever subject ourselves to a version of Torah that torments us. It is one thing to limp away from the Godwrestle; it is another to lie vomiting upon the ground.

 

Indeed, we are moving, far more quickly and firmly than some believed possible, to shape new midrash that will be so deep and clear that all of us who have been horrified by parts of the ancient text will have a new sense of what Torah is. Again, this has happened before. Long ago, the rabbis told that young Abram had destroyed the idols that his father sold in his shop. For centuries, this story rang so true that generations of Jews thought it was in the Torah. They have scrutinized the Scroll to chase it down. It isn’t there. But in the people’s minds, it is.

 

Or take a harsher case. In long passages of Torah, God commands the Jews to eradicate every member of certain nations that lived in the land of Canaan. To the rabbis, this was abhorrent. They dealt with it by simply asserting that these nations had been intermingled by the Assyrian conquest so thoroughly that these nations no longer existed, and the command was a dead letter. Finished.

 

Once it had become utterly clear that these passages do not control our present actions with other nations,  some of our teachers interpreted the stories to be a metaphor of inner spiritual struggle, and gave new life to the text in a different dimension. Turned the All into a Harmony.

 

Or the command that parents stone to death a rebellious son. First the rabbis looked so carefully at the Torah’s description of such a rebellious son that they cleverly restricted the number of such cases to zero. Then they said that not only had there never been such a case, but there never would be. Never?! In  any conceivable future, never? No! And when one asked, “Why then did the Torah bother to set the rule?” they answered: To give us the pleasure of studying it.

 

In other words, make healing midrash from what is dangerous, degrading. Take a tiny spark of wisdom, turn it into a glowing presence. Expand on the story of the midwives, uncover the full life-history of Miriam, explore the love life of Jonathan and David, hear the silent voice of the God Who absents Herself from the Scroll of Esther, hear Dina’s voice.

 

I have yet another story to tell of Dina’s voice. It is a story of the birthing of new Torah that may come as we plunge deep into the Black Hole of darkside Torah. Years after I had faced the triple rape of Dina, I drew a deep breath — did I dare do this again? — and asked a group of rabbinical students to do a drushodrama with that same story. I asked them to start with its first line: “Dina went out to visit with the daughters of the land.”

 

One woman volunteered to be Dina, others to be the “daughters of the land.” Dina stood, stretched, walked over to one of the women, looked lovingly into her face.

 

“You’re beautiful,” she said. “I love the compassion, the fire in your eyes. I want to get to know you.  Perhaps it is bashert,  perhaps it is meant to be, that we be lovers.”

 

The other student gasped, blushed, laughed, and responded  in a way that advanced the new Torah we had just begun. I thought to myself, “After 4,000 years of Jewish history, there are not many totally new  midrashim — but that one probably is!”

 

When the day comes that a Jewish lesbian can see herself in one of the Torah’s heroines, when the day comes that a gay man can take it as much for granted that Jonathan was gay as we take the story of Abraham’s smashing his father’s idols,  when all the voices of the family are speaking through the voice of Torah, then the Torah will be new — and old. As new as it was in days of old. As old, and as new, as the family whose Godwrestling it records.

 

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