Friday, December 12, 2014

“Girly Men’s” Redemption - Vayeshev

The strip search of "Love Makes A Way" protesters
this week and the broader asylum seeker  policy
debate in Australia illustrates the soft vs hard debate
Although I like to think that I am happy with my mix of strengths and weaknesses, I occasionally feel concerned about being “a soft person”. I can sometimes be indecisive, spontaneous, impulsive and conciliatory. I find that my energy levels fluctuate. There are times when I am filled with hope. At other times, I feel daunted by my work challenges and life. Occasionally I feel envious of successful “hard men”. They are decisive, disciplined, determined and consistent. They know what they want, and appear able to bend people to their will. I suspect however that redemption - whenever it comes - might be due more to the influence of women (or “girly men”) than “hard men”.

In this week’s Torah reading we are introduced to a puzzling story about a family whose two oldest sons marry the same beautiful (1) woman (named Tamar); one after the other. Both brothers die young (2). Eventually Tamar, pretending to be a prostitute, seduces and later marries her father in law, giving birth to twins, after having narrowly escaped being burned alive. What is even more intriguing for me is that this adventure is understood by the Jewish sages as God being “occupied with creating the light of the Messiah” (3). This is because one of the twins (that were born out of wedlock) is the ancestor of King David, who in turn, is professed to be a predecessor of the Messiah! 

This ancestor of the Messiah is named Peretz, which means “to burst forth”. His twin brother is Zarach, which means “to shine”. The children’s names are linked to the sun and the moon. The name Zarach/Shine is associated with the sun that shines consistently, while Peretz, the ancestor of the Messiah, is connected with the moon (4), which waxes and wanes, just as the passionate King David’s royal dynasty fluctuated over history (5). This suggests that those “who live the ups and downs” are closer to the character of the Messiah than those who appear to consistently “shine brightly like the sun”. 
In addition to the value placed on those of us who fluctuate, which is arguably a sign of living to the full,  there is also emphasis on the feminine. In patriarchal societies there is a sense that men are the ones to take the initiative in relation to sex and marriage. Men propose. Yet when it comes to the ancestors of the Messiah (who are also the ancestors of King David from whom the Messiah descends), there are three strong women who take the initiative in orchestrating a sexual encounter or marriage (6), as pointed out in an article by Rabbi Arthur Waskow. 

Ruth, the Moabite takes the lead in initiating a relationship with Boaz. She sleeps at his feet (7) uninvited. When Boaz wakes up frightened, Ruth invites him to “spread his coat over her” (8), which is an expression of marriage (9). Ruth descends from the daughter of Lot. She and her father (and sister) escaped the destruction of Sodom and thought all the men had perished. So she got her father drunk and was impregnated by him (10). Moab, the baby born of that liaison, is another ancestor of the Messiah; his existence the result of an assertive woman taking the lead. 

According to Kabbalistic traditions, in the Messianic era, women will be in an elevated position compared to men (11). One Rabbi put it simply: “In Messianic times, the female's superiority will be apparent” (12). As we strive for a more redemptive way of being, as represented by the Messianic age, it makes sense to prioritise feminine perspectives and ways of being. 

Of course, one can argue that the traditions should allow for the possibility of a female messiah, but this is a topic for a separate discussion. The material in this blog is sufficient to inspire me to harness and assert my more feminine or softer characteristics, to nudge the people in my sphere of influence slightly and gently closer to the way of redemption.

1) Midrash Hagadol, cited in Torah Shlaima, vol. 2, p. 1449
2) Genesis 38
3) Midrash of Rabbi Nechunya Ben Hakaneh, cited in Ramban to Genesis 38:29,
4) Midrash of Rabbi Nechunya Ben Hakaneh, cited in Ramban to Genesis 38:29,
5) Rabbenu Bchaya, he also suggests that the twins were reincarnations of the two older sons of Judah who died, Er and Onan. These two were either ego centric, in the case of Onan, who did not want to have children “for his brother” (Genesis 38:8-9) or, Er who commentary tells us did not want to have children lest it make Tamar ugly (Midrash Hagadol). It could be argued that both of these men, were what might be termed as very masculine in their approaches and needed to be reincarnated to correct these flaws before one of them could be the ancestor of the Messiah.
6) Rabbi Arthur Waskow,, accessed 10/12/14
7) Ruth 3:7
8) Ruth 3:9,
9) Taking her ‘under his wing’ by spreading the corner of his coat over her is an expression of marriage (Rashi). According to one opinion the Jewish wedding custom in which the groom put a vail over the brides face is a variation of this theme in the book of Ruth, and is in fact the true expression of the significant marriage ritual referred to as Chuppah (Meiri, Ketubot 7b, Piskey Riaz Ketubot 1:11, Sefer Hamanhig 109, Avudaram order of blessings of Erusin, and Maharil laws of marriage all cited in Hanesuim Kehilchatam, Adler, B, (1985) Hamesorah,  Jerusalem
10) Genesis 19:30-38
11) Often cited in Chabad teachings, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson, Likutei Sichos vol 11, p. 62,
12) Markus, Rabbi Y,

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