I have to admit, I’ve never composed or given a d’var Torah. But recent events in Brooklyn, with the execution-style murder of two police officers, prompt me to give one now on Parashat Vayishlach, in which we have the incredibly painful story of Dinah’s rape and her brother’s violent reaction to it.
I should start by saying that Parashat Vayishlach makes my stomach upset. When we come upon this passage of the Torah each year, I feel tempted to attend Congregation I’m-sleeping-in-Shalom. I’m a rape survivor, and even though my rape occurred nearly two decades ago, the memories are still very fresh for me. I didn’t speak up right after it happened, get a rape kit done, or run to the police because I was in a small town in a midwestern state that was run by a good ol’ boy network, and the perpetrator was the son of a very well known family there. The college administration did virtually nothing to stand up for me when I did eventually get the courage to file a complaint to the academic dean along with other female students who were being harassed by this lame excuse for a man. Other members of the school, including some staff, did stand up for me, and through plenty of shunning and one lost job, he was eventually forced out of the community and actually moved out of state. I, however, to this day, still have to keep an eye over my shoulder at all times, checking to make sure that he’s not in the same town as me, not able to find me online, not able to find out where I live. He threatened revenge if I spoke up about what he did to me, and I have every reason to believe him.
So, while it’s nice to know that Dinah’s brothers cared so deeply about her and her honor that they would exact revenge, I still hate hearing about her rape. I also still struggle, since someone pointed it out in an article I read elsewhere, G-d appears silent, both about Yaakov’s choice to give Dinah to her rapist in exchange for mass circumcision, and also in response to the mass execution and pillaging that her brothers committed. I find zero comfort anywhere in Parashat Vayishlach for my post-traumatic stress disorder triggerings. I just hope beyond hope that the rabbi will speak about anything but what happened to Dinah or the drama that ensued post facto.
I contemplate where G-d was in that horrific course of events. The more that I think about it, I think it’s more like where Yaakov and all the other human actors were. It’s obvious where Dinah was — in the pit of depression and despair where victims of violent crime frequently find themselves. I’ve been there. She may have been screaming in her heart for G-d to pull her out. She may have been angry at him. Who knows. It could easily have been a make-it-or-break-it moment for her spiritually. I wish we could have heard more about her.
As for Dinah’s brothers and father and any other actors, I can only speak about their place with G-d in terms of being like a rubber band. I’ve heard that our relationship with G-d is much like one — and a good, fresh, strong one, I don’t mean a worn out one that you get with your mail from the post office. It’s like we’re on one end and G-d’s on the other. When things are at peace and our faith is strong, the rubber band is relaxed, and both ends are close together. We feel that closeness with the divine and holy. But when there’s tension, resentment, and anger in our lives, our faith strained, and like a taut rubber band, the end which is us is polarized and seemingly far from G-d… but still connected. G-d is just so far from our minds that it’s like those points in the Torah or even Megillat Esther, when we don’t see G-d’s name written anywhere, but the holy presence is still known to be there by those who have faith. So it appears to be for G-d’s relationship with Yaakov and his sons. Too much tension and anger to be fully cognizant of G-d’s presence. Questionable judgments abounded and violence broke out, and… where was G-d? Nearby, but not truly felt, and not enough to keep G-d’s desires in mind. Are we even sure whose decision G-d favored in response to what happened to Dinah, if anyone’s? (Let’s not even start with people who’d blame the victim.)
I came back online officially from Shabbat tonight, posted my requisite chanukiah “selfie” and Shavua Tov/Chag Sameach message to my friends, and came across a news article about how a man in Brooklyn shot and killed, execution-style, two NYPD officers. According to this article from DNAInfo, the perpetrator did this in revenge for Eric Garner and Michael Brown’s deaths. He apparently had taken to Instagram a short hour or so before to declare this to the world. The article goes on to state that Eric Garner’s family is infuriated by what happened.
Sound a bit familiar?
Yes, I am aware that there was a “pro-police” rally the night before and that sweatshirts were worn saying things like “I can breathe”–which infuriates me to no end (which of course is the point–and it makes me even sicker that members of the NYPD and their supporters would go so far as to antagonize like that). Yes, I am aware that people on both sides of this conflict are already infuriated and feel antagonized for other reasons. The moment that things progressed from being about a deeply flawed judicial system and institutionalized racism to simply “pro-cop” versus “anti-cop” (and I hold the media squarely to blame for reframing this situation into that) is when things became dehumanizing. I knew things had gone too far when punches were thrown the other week on the Brooklyn Bridge. I felt even sicker when someone actually said tonight, under a post about the double homicide that he “wasn’t surprised” that this had happened.
Where is G-d right now? How far stretched away have we gotten from G-d’s holy presence?
Yes, there is the law about “an eye for an eye”. But need we explain yet again what that actually means? That means financial restitution. As for actual murder, that is handled in a court, and as any learned Jew knows, the death penalty has been put on moratorium for us because we know that if we execute an innocent man, that’s two murders committed, and then everyone responsible for the execution has to be executed as well. This, however, is getting me off track from what really needs to be said: in the fury over the court decisions regarding Eric Garner and Michael Brown, we have become like Yaakov and his sons, choosing to make decisions and judgments based on our own emotions or base desires, and not based on a higher level of reasoning, and it is now becoming our downfall.
And now, two more innocent lives have been taken.
How much further is this going to go?
More young lives?
More fists, bullets, other weapons, words we can’t take back, massive unfriendings on social media that we may regret deeply and can’t fix, certainly not with some passive aggressive “I’m sorry” mass message song-and-dance during Elul?
This upswell of violence isn’t helping the families or friends of Eric Garner or Michael Brown. It’s not helping the federal investigations. It’s sure as hell not effecting social change or preventing further murders or reforming the police departments. It’s not doing a damn thing.
It is NOT helping the victims. As a survivor of violent crime, in the memory of Dinah, in memory of Michael and Eric, I present to you this message from one of my favorite films:
Gavriela hails originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but now resides in Forest Hills, New York. She has a Masters degree in clinical social work from Temple University and is a dedicated volunteer in the animal rescue community. Gavriela is a major science geek and finds that her love of science strengthens her belief in G-d and vice versa, contrary to what others might expect.
Header image courtesy of Pixabay.