- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On October 27, 2017
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat.
It isn’t an ancient story. We know this from the news reports and too many personal experiences. Hollywood and the film industry join a long list of how power and predators are a dangerous combination, especially as it concerns the objectification of women.
But our portion this week reminds us that the need for reparation goes as far back as the Bible and even before that.
Abram and Sarai, who will become Abraham and Sarah later in Genesis, arrived to the land of Canaan as instructed by God. They faced famine and made their way down to Egypt. As they arrived at the border, Abram turned to his wife and requested that they tell the Egyptians that she is his sister, not his wife. Abram feared they would see her beauty and kill him off.
Please say that you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may remain alive thanks to you. (Genesis 12:13)
When the Egyptian courtiers saw her beauty, they immediately informed Pharaoh and brought her to him. And because of her, all went very well for Abram who amassed great wealth. But, God was not pleased and brought plagues upon Pharaoh and his household on account of Sarai. Pharaoh, in great distress, discovered the subterfuge, and sent Sarai back to Abram. Take her and be gone! Pharaoh told Abram.
This whole episode is an indictment on complicit behavior regarding the treatment of Sarai. One commentator, S’forno, noted that the courtiers of Pharaoh had originally thought she would be available to commoners but her beauty redirected them to their boss, Pharaoh. The Midrash gave her a voice to pray: “Sovereign of the Universe, Abram went forth on Your assurance, and I went forth with faith; Abram is without this prison while I am within.” And God responded, “Whatever I do, I do for your sake…” “And even though Sarai told Pharaoh she was a married woman, he would not leave her. As a result, God struck him with leprosy.” (Genesis Rabbah 42:1)
In seeking to understand this disturbing story, the rabbis who interpreted it, were deeply distraught by the troubling behavior. Nevertheless, the objectification of Sarai and the complicit behavior by those who surrounded her remains in our Torah. What shall we do with it?
One of my teachers in rabbinic school used to say that there is no one in the Torah you want your kid to grow up and emulate. Such is the case here. Moral depravity and ethical challenges weave their way through the imperfections of Biblical characters. We study, analyze, dissect, and discover in order to ask more questions. It doesn’t release us from responsibility for our own behavior and those around us, however. Discomfort and distress from the text lead us to insight and reflection of how we need and must go forward doing good and what is right in the world we live in today. Though their circumstances may seem different, they call to our attention to pay attention to iniquity happening right here, right now.
The opportunity to engage in artful and prayerful expression will outline tonight’s Qabbalat Shabbat at 6:00 p.m. Live stream HERE. Torah study begins with a short service at 9:00 a.m. followed by a provocative and engaging discussion.
Connect directly with me HERE with your own reflections and comments.