Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Blessing for Dina

In yesterday's portion of Vayechi, Jacob blesses his sons. But his one daughter, Dina, goes unblessed. In a modern midrash, TBE's Karen Hainbach rectifies that problem, imagining what a blessing for Dina would have (ou should have) contained, as uttered not by Jacob, but by her mother Leah. My thanks to Karen for this creative feminist midrash, which had its "world premier" at our Sisterhood Shabbat yesterday:

D’Var Torah for Parashat Vayechi
By Karen Hayworth Hainbach
Temple Beth El, Stamford, CT

January 10, 2009

Among other events chronicled in Vayechi, we learn of the passing of our Matriarch Leah, and Jacob’s deathbed blessing of his sons. However, the text is silent as to the details of Leah’s last days, the cause of her death and the funeral rites accorded to this venerable mother of six of the 12 Tribes of Israel.

The only mention of Leah’s death in the Torah consists of 5 words, when Jacob charges his sons to bury him in the Cave of Machpelah with his ancestors: “there Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried; there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried; and there I buried Leah”.¹ In contrast, no fewer than 73 verses of Vayechi are devoted to Jacob’s demise.²

There is a simple explanation for this disparity. A shepherd, watching the green grass grow as his sheep graze, enjoys plenty of time to record His-Story, chiseling events painstakingly in stone. A multi-tasking mother of seven, bouncing a baby on her hip while stirring a savory lamb stew, supervising her toddlers, and otherwise overseeing the household, lacks leisure for this pastoral pastime. Instead, she relates her tale to her daughters, as they spin, weave, sew,
and sweep the endless sand drifts out of the tent. And her daughters pass on Her-Story to future generations by word of mouth, and this is how we know………..

The Midrash of Dina’s Blessing

Dina: When Aunt Rachel died in childbirth on the journey from Beth El to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem,³ my father Jacob was inconsolable in his grief. My mother Leah, mourning the loss of her childhood playmate and confidante and all the happy times they shared before Father drove a wedge between them, shared his loss and strived in vain to comfort him. But, as always, Leah was no substitute for Rachel in their husband’s eyes. Insensitive as ever, my father rejected Leah mercilessly.

I blame the double loss of Rachel’s and Jacob’s companionship, as much as my mother’s anguish over my rape at the hands of Shechem,4 for her untimely death, shortly before our arrival at Mamre, at Kiriat-arba – now Hebron. Weary from child-bearing and -rearing, and endless trudging through the desert, not to mention watering all those camels!, my mother Leah summoned all the women of the camp, when she sensed her impending demise. And thus did she bless me, for all to hear:

Leah: “Following the tradition of Abraham and Isaac, Jacob will surely bless his sons before he dies.5 But I doubt that he will take much notice of his only daughter, especially since she was born unto me, instead of his beloved Rachel. But, Dina, thou, too, art worthy of parental blessing! Therefore, will I bless thee this day, before all the women of our household, for I know not how many days are left unto me.

“My darling daughter Dina, thou art a builder of bridges, a peaceful proselytizer, a wounded wanderer. With 12 brothers and no sisters as exemplars, it is no wonder that thou didst develop into a strong, independent and fearless adventuress. When, one by one, the youths left thee behind in order to tend their flocks, thy curious nature did prompt thee to explore the wider world beyond our tribe.

“Thou ventured forth alone to meet the daughters of the land,6 and stretched forth thy hand in peace to all whom thou encountered. Thou didst form friendships with the maidens, studying their skills and their songs. And thou didst spread the fame of our One God, Adonai, the loving, merciful God of Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel. Thou didst dream of uniting all the children of Adonai in harmony.

“Alas! All the good that thou accomplished was destroyed by Shechem’s act of violence and thy brothers’ savage vengeance.7 Generations will come and go, before peace will be restored between the children of Israel and their neighboring nations.

“In your distress, may ye be comforted and sustained amidst the sisterhood of our household. Through their ministrations, will Adonai grant thee a refuah shlema for thy ravished body and vanquished spirit. Thy confidence in thyself and thy faith in mankind must be restored. Then shalt thou regain the courage to embrace strangers, and once again offer gracious hospitality, following the tradition of Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel.

“Thou shalt be blessed with the loving loyalty and devotion of a gentle husband who adores thee as thy father did cherish thy Aunt Rachel. Thou art destined to become the mother of multitudes, bringing forth even more sons and daughters than were granted unto me. May thy faith in Adonai be steadfast, and may Adonai always answer the worthy prayers of thy heart.”

Dina: And upon finishing this blessing, my mother Leah was gathered unto her ancestors, amidst great lamentation and weeping. And Jacob did lay her to rest in the Cave of Machpelah, where she lies to this day, his eternal companion, with no rival at last.

¹ Gen., Ch. 49, v. 31
² Gen., Ch. 47, v. 28-31; Gen., Ch. 48, v. 1-22; Gen., Ch. 49, v. 1-33; Gen., Ch. 50, v. 1-14
³ Gen., Ch. 35, v. 16-21; Gen., Ch. 48, v. 7
4 Gen., Ch. 34, v. 2
5 Gen., Ch. 24, v. 36; Gen., Ch. 25, v. 5-6; Gen. Ch. 27, v. 1-40; Gen. Ch. 28, v. 1-4
6 Gen., Ch. 34, v. 1
7 Gen., Ch. 34, v. 25-29

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