Wordless Dina, Dark & Light

Rabbi Phyllis Berman & Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 12/10/2003

The same Hassidim who teach that the Torah is Divine Light also teach that there is no way to light except through darkness: "There was evening, there was morning: one day." Creation begins in the dark of night; only then can it dawn, and finally both dark and light become one whole. Streaks of dark remain forever in the One Day.

There are streaks of darkness in the weave of Torah light.

The two of us fell into one such darkness as we were leading a class on sexuality in Torah.. We asked people to read as overnight homework the brief story of Dina (Genesis 34).

Dina, the one daughter of Jacob who is named alongside his twelve sons, goes out to "see the daughters of the land." There she is raped by Sh'chem, one of the local Canaanite notables. He falls in love with her and asks to marry her. Jacob sons insist that he and all his clansmen be circumcised before they can be permitted to marry an Israelite woman. They agree, and on the third day, when they are in most pain from the cutting, two of Jacob's three oldest sons fall upon them and kill them all. Jacob accuses these two sons of making him odious to the nearby folk, endangering his life and household. Many years later he calls them murderers and denies them the rank due them in birth order.

In the entire story, Dina says not a word.

We asked the class to be prepared next day to speak in Dina's name. Next day, as we began, a man's hand shot up to speak for her. "That's fine," said Arthur "but before you give your voice to Dina, let's have two women say her words."

There was a silence. Then one of the women in the room raised her hand. She stood, closed her eyes, then looked around the circle of our faces:

"Raped," she said.

"I have been raped three times.

"Once by Shhem.

"Once by my brothers, who did not come to ask me what I thought before they did this killing.

"And once by the Torah which will not let me speak. By the Torah, which is still raping me."

She began to cry, and then sat down. There was a long, long silence. Finally we said, "We asked for two women to speak in Dina's voice. Is another woman ready to speak now?" There was a longer, longer silence.

Then Phyllis said, "Is no one coming forward because you other women feel that Dina has truly spoken that what we have already heard is really Dina voice?"

All the women nodded. And Phyllis said, "Me too."

Raped by the Torah. Silenced by the Torah.

What can anyone say? What can any man say?

Can we keep that moment of darkness alight whenever we wrestle with the Torah?

There was a light that sprang from the darkness of that moment, just as the Hassidim said it would. For in the very same breath that our Dina said that the Torah rapes her, she was saying it by doing midrash on that very Torah. She was drawing on that same sacred text of sacred rapist Torah, in order to weave a new tale into that sacred rapist text.

A radical midrash. Perhaps the most radical imaginable midrash, for it negated the Torah in the moment of affirming it. Affirmed it by negating it. Negated it by affirming it. The light could not be separated from the darkness. Smile away the dark discovery, and enlightenment would also vanish with it.

Like running headlong into a Black Hole of utter emptiness and possibility, the Holy Hole that may nurture an entire universe abirthing, a billion galaxies of light and dark.

Is there another Torah hidden within the one we read, to be found only by plunging deep into its darkness?

Perhaps only from its darkness — silenced women, murdered men — can we birth the Torah that will give voice to Dina and give life to Sh'chem. The one we most need, in our own generation.


Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director of The Shalom Center <www.theshalomcenter.org>; Phyllis Berman will be ordained to the rabbinate in January 2004. She has been director of the Summer Program of Elat Chayyim retreat center for eleven years. Together they most recently wrote A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven: The Jewish Life-Spiral as a Spiritual Path (Farrar Straus & Giroux). This essay appeared in the Jerusalem Report.

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