Anyone who has known what it is to accumulate words in the belly knows what it is to be without voice; to feel that there is voice but that it is trapped, sunken and afraid. Or that what does come out of the mouth is a kind of betrayal, not one's true voice. This is more than a question of tone and resonance—this is a question of survival.
It was the search for voice that brought me to Dinah. Dinah has "no lines" in the biblical narrative of Genesis 34. When I chose to study her it was with a longing to feel her voice in my throat, through my being: I wanted to give Dinah voice, and in so doing, both to free her and to take a step along my own path out of silence.
As it turned out, my first move in this direction almost cut short the whole adventure. I encountered and read a novel called What Dinah Thought. I was stunned to find that in this novel Deena Metzger had done everything I had wanted to do and more. What was there left for me to say?
Slowly, I came to see things differently. I saw that my desire to liberate Dinah definitively "for all time" by having her speak through me had been misguided. I eventually came to understand that my encounter with the text was going to be something I had to experience alone, cognizant of, but separate from those who may have gone before. I understood that if I did manage to feel and speak Dinah's voice, it would be just one of the many possible voices of Dinah.
T he notion that it is possible for a character from the Bible to find a voice by speaking through someone today is a strange one. I knew this, yet I felt sure that I wanted to do it anyway, to give Dinah a voice. There was something about Dinah's story that resonated with my own enough to give me a sense of confidence. Then I came across Deena Metzger's novel, and found in it a powerful example of what I had been wishing for, only more thorough and far-reaching.
What Dinah Thought has been a powerful presence and influence. So powerful, in fact, that I could not proceed to encounter Dinah in the text on my own until I had met, embraced, and finally left the Metzger midrash. This paper is a record of that process. It contains a summary of What Dinah Thought. It also contains an experiment: a dialogue between me (Sharon) and Dina, the main character in Deena Metzger's novel. This dialogue explores some of the issues that the novel raises and also presents some of the midrash and commentary related to Dinah. By inventing a dialogue with someone else's fictional character, I wanted, as a secondary objective, to point to questions of character, fiction, story and history. These questions remain, for me to explore further on other occasions. The paper concludes with my monologue for Dinah.
I. What Dinah Thought
O ne passes into the world of What Dinah Thought gradually. The novel is framed by a dedication, epigrams and a Prologue that set up a many-layered universe, replete with tensions, movement and Presence. Balancing all that is felt but not seen, occupying the "top layer" is a story whose central character is Dina, an American film maker.
The contemporary Dina travels to Israel to make a film, but her official mission is only a cover story. Dina is really going because she is impelled by an invisible presence, a woman, in fact by the Dinah of the Genesis story. The contemporary Dina is determined to change the biblical story, to relive it with a different ending, as she writes to her mythical lover/rapist, "so that at the end, Shechem, you won't die and I won't remain alone." (p. 11)(1)
We, along with the contemporary Dina, know the Genesis story, its tale of the rape of Dinah by Shechem and its most unhappy ending as Dinah's brothers take revenge by slaughtering Shechem and his whole tribe. The dynamics of this story operate powerfully within the novel as the story unfolds.
We know from the outset that Dina the filmmaker wants to "change the ending" of the biblical story by reliving it differently, but we are not sure whether she will be able to. It is not clear what success depends on, but Dina speaks of the need for a kind of devotion, a perfection of will and intent. She apostrophizes the biblical Shechem, writing to him:
Now, I am beginning to realize how carefully I must tell this, how I must set down each word as an invocation, so that at the end, the very story which created us, which I have come to live again, will, indeed, be rewritten and transformed. Then my name will no longer carry this pain. … I want to be certain that all the Dinas who come after me will not continue to suffer Dinah's fate.
There is an uncanny sense here, something Dina calls magic even as her contemporary American skeptical consciousness questions it. This kind of "conjuring" as she calls it, was responsible for the sudden appearance of the biblical Dinah in her life. The feat of conjuring was accomplished in stages, and only begun once Dina had become "intrigued by what lay behind the veil¾ or the wall¾ that is, the frontier between the outer and the inner worlds." (p. 8)
The border between worlds is symbolized by a mysterious white wall that Dina had encountered on a solitary outing, some time before her trips to Israel:
… I came upon a white wall materializing out of fog as if it had been conjured. It spread as far as I could see in either direction. To convince myself that it wasn't a hallucination, I got out of the car and approached the wall to reassure myself by rubbing my hand along its incontrovertibly gritty surface. (p. 8)
Dina drives on, away from this mystery wall with its very real and gritty surface, but she returns later and gives the wall a name,
… I called it "Dinah" as one calls the unknown and impenetrable "God." I preferred to call it "Dinah" because that name contained more mystery and less will, was smaller in its proportions, and my heart could reach to her because she was a woman. (p. 9)
Dina begins then to enter into a relationship with the Genesis story and its characters, and the biblical Dinah becomes a presence in her life. At first the relationship remained rather superficial. There was an initial trip to Israel, to Nablus. But nothing happened. Shechem her lover did not appear. Dina tells us, of that first trip,
When I went to Israel, I was playing with the gods. I was playing with story as if it were a trinket. . . . I went to Shechem [Nablus] as one goes to temple these days, hoping in advance that it will be empty of God. (p. 12)
All of this background is given in the Prologue. The Prologue also sets up a wonderfully vivid, slightly surreal, unfinished scene. This turns out to be the climactic scene of the novel, as we discover when the scene gets completed, played out fully at last at the end of the novel.
As the novel begins, "Two women in one body descended the airplane." Dina is returning to Israel, this time with a sense of intensity born of despair. She must redeem herself, her story and her lover, and save all future Dinahs.
The action moves ahead, carrying with it the series of tensions set up by the Prologue. The Genesis story remains present, and continues to develop as the biblical Dinah's story is told in italics, bit by bit. The heart of this drama is the powerful scene in which Dinah's brothers return to plunder the slain and find their sister alone in a room with her dead lover. She has just finished washing his corpse with strips of linen torn from her wedding dress.
… The flesh had fallen from her body but the bones were shining so that in her darkness there was light. And Shechem was shining too. The two of them were the light in the room. Then she became a great bird of prey, so when they [her brothers] tried to remove the body, she came toward them with great webs of darkness hanging from her arms. (p. 71)
Dinah keeps her brothers at bay, then chases them out, saying that she will bury Shechem herself. But instead, she drags over the hollow trunk of a dead tree, places her lover inside it, and burns him in a ceremony that carries echoes of burned tree-dwelling spirits, or Asherahs:
… The ashes fell for days and later when the tents were opened, ashes were found in the creases and folds. The cheeses were darkened and the milk was gray. The wool of the animals was smudged so that everything woven had a dark palor, and the water, even the wine, had ash in it. And no matter how far away they traveled, and they traveled far, they could not get clean and for a year they lived with Shechem in their mouths. (p. 73.)
The dramatic stakes are thus set high early in the novel, and the tension builds as we wonder whether the contemporary Dina will need to go through some equally horrific experience. We learn through a series of flashbacks that the contemporary Dina was raped once, in a fear-inspiring incident that happened when she was on holiday in Mexico. However, we do not expect that she will be raped again, certainly not by the Shechem she has come to find, whom she thinks of as her star-crossed lover rather than as her rapist.
In the contemporary story, it is the tension between Israelis and Palestinians that makes us nervous, as Dina crosses boundaries and breaks through red tape in her fierce determination to get to the restricted west bank town of Nablus. In the end, Dina does meet her Shechem, her Palestinian lover. And they do change the ending.
But nothing here is cut and dried, black and white. Metzger raises issues of violence and responsibility powerfully, and with intelligence. For example, she has Dina entering a museum in Mexico city sometime on the same trip when she was raped, and witnessing a photo-documentary exhibition on the horrors of Vietnam. As she stands, speechless, a fellow visitor taps her on the shoulder and asks, "And how do you explain the behavior of your brothers?" Violence is not identified only with Israel; brothers continue to kill, and the challenge to their sisters to change things is ever present.
What Dinah Thought is a novel of great power and subtlety, written with passion, poetry and intelligence. It is midrash, as its author intended. It demonstrates a visceral engagement with the biblical text, a wrestling with the issues it raises, and a personal response that is a fitting fulfillment of its own opening epigram:
this Midrash be in the service of Peace
Sharon: Hello Dina. I've just finished telling something about your story as told by Deena M. It's really very little that I've told, I realize, but perhaps enough to spur on the curious to read the novel. It's such a good novel.
Dina:Why thank you. And now what?
Sharon: There are several things I'd like to explore with you, if they interest you, that is. I want to investigate some of the questions of truth and fiction that arise out of a novel like yours. What is real, what is story, what is the relationship of story to history? And also, I'd like to talk over some of the rabbinic midrash and commentary about Dinah with you. But first, I have a question for you, about Dinas.
Here goes: Your creator, Deena Metzger, created two Dinahs: you, and the biblical character Dinah who you first encounter as a mysterious white wall, then come to feel as a presence; and then there is the voice of this biblical Dinah as she tells her story in italics, bit by bit over the course of the novel.
My question: is there any difference between you and the biblical Dinah character—is there any difference between you as fictional characters? any difference, if I can put like this, in your fictionality; is one of you more fictional than the other? or fictional in some different way?
Dina: That's an interesting question. And here's my answer: No. There is no difference. We're both fictional characters created by Deena M.
That's the short answer. But you know there's more to it than that—and that's why you're asking. I don't think you're expecting me to say: "Wow! Yah, that other Dinah, the one with the "ah" at the end of her name, she's actually the biblical Dinah come back to speak to me after a few thousand years." Of course not. And yet . .
Sharon: And yet—you have this whole thing in the novel about conjuring Dinah into existence. The whole business that starts with the wall, that mysterious white wall that appears and recedes seemingly endlessly off in either direction. Do you know I love that image. I love the fog with all of its powerful suggestiveness, half-revealing, half-concealing so much that may be felt or intuited. And then at different points in the book you speak about passing through the wall, passing through Dinah, the wall, into some other kind of truth that is behind the veil.
I've just thought of something. Actually I've just remembered something I want to tell you, about walls. I've just remembered that when I was living out on the Canadian prairie for a couple of very difficult years I wrote a poem. I think I called it Passage. In that poem I said, "and I have passed through myself many times, like a jester through walls …"
Isn't that somehow odd? That both of us should come to this image of passing through a wall in connection with the shifting of identity?
Dina: Well, it's odd and it isn't odd. And I'll help you by bringing us back to your original question, or at least I'll try. I don't find it odd that we should both speak of walls in the context of search and identity. Coming up against a wall is a pretty basic physical image. This is a felt reality shared by everyone who lives in a world where there are walls. And the wall has that quality of inside/outside: one can be enclosed, protected, held safe—or imprisoned, or liberated—or simply brought up short—by a wall. All of that symbolism and imagery and physicality, physical reality is right there as soon as you have a wall.
Now the fact that we both have spoken about passing through walls—the seemingly impenetrable becomes a membrane, a threshold of sorts—this starts to give a more mystical sense—something I was definitely after. So I think that the fact that we both tuned into this particular potential of the symbol is in some way what you just called "odd."
But I'd want to be very careful here. It's not really odd or particularly strange. I see this rather as something that draws us, you and I, somewhat closer together, in the way that Deena M. was drawn to Dinah, and you and I were drawn to Dinah. I suppose you could say on some level that Dinah is a kind of symbol, like a wall is or can be a symbol, and that we responded to this symbol called Dinah in similar ways, just as you and I responded to the wall symbol in similar ways. Does this take us any further into the essence of your question? I'm not sure.
Sharon: No. Neither am I. I think something is missing.
Dina: Right. Here's something. You asked about whether there was any difference between me and the Genesis Dinah as she appears in the novel. We're both fictional characters created by Deena M. But here's a big difference: the Genesis Dinah already existed as a character! She already had a story. As a matter of fact, her story has been around for a very long time. The fact that her story forms part of the sacred literature of Judaism is not an indifferent element either.
Sharon: Exactly! Thank you Dina. The story of Dinah in the novel relates to the Genesis story in very powerful ways, quite clearly. In fact, Deena M. introduces your novel as Midrash, doesn't she?
Dina: Indeed she does. Do you remember how she does it?
Sharon: Yes, Dina, I do. She says, "May this Midrash be in the service of Peace and be an act of tikkun olam." I found this quite moving when I read it. I still do. This is the voice of Deena M., your creator, speaking. Hearing her say this at the beginning of the novel brought the work to a different plane for me. It introduced deeper levels of tension and anticipation. I could feel the sense of commitment and personal investment of the author in her work: I felt the power of what was at stake for her.
Dina: Yes. And here I'd like to expand on your question about story. You are right in sensing the importance of story in the novel. It is definitely a theme. And yes, I feel that story is in some way more real than history; or that we can never know "history." Who knows what "really happened" in quotes. From whose point of view? It's endless. But with story there is a pattern, there is meaning, there is tension and movement. Story has power. That is why it was so critical to me to create a different ending to the Dinah story, to bring a real alternative into the world. I believe in this deeply and sincerely.
Sharon: So do I, Dina. And for me there is some kind of mystery here. But I want to be as clear as possible: We need to imagine different ways of being and doing. This kind of deeply committed imagining needs to be completed, when it's good, by being lived out in the world. This then becomes a real offering. Here it is. Another way. A different choice.
Dina: Yes. I think it is something like that. These issues are not easy to articulate, Sharon. Let's change key for a while, shall we? You said you wanted to discuss some of the rabbinic midrash?
Sharon: Yes, I do.
Dina: Maybe I'll start, then. It seems to me that the stories I read focused mainly on a couple of points: 1) What was meant by Dinah "went out" to see the daughters of the land, and what were the implications of her going out like that? and 2) How could good men have carried out the kind of mass slaughter and pillage that Simeon and Levi are said to have done?
Sharon: Right. The rabbis, especially the medieval commentators, certainly had a thing about Dinah going out. They went on and on, saying, Only wear jewelry at home. Don't wear it when you go out: don't be like Dinah. Then this part I quite disliked, making the comparison of a man walking in the square with a piece of food in his hand. A dog saw him, kept following him, and finally snatched it from him. "So did Dinah go out to see, and Shechem espied her and seized her."(2) I really don't like the implied comparison between Dinah and a piece of food, and dog food at that.
I'm more sympathetic to the question about Simeon and Levi attacking the Shechemites while they were weak from their recent circumcision. "How could the righteous have done such a thing?"(3) is a good question, it seems to me.
Dina: Yes, certainly it is. But then the answer, if I remember, is convoluted. The rabbis imagine that the Shechemites changed the conditions, changed the rules of the game, and for this reason they could not be trusted.
Sharon: Right. I sympathize with the question, but find the answer rather unconvincing.
So. Here's what I really want to know: why did Dinah go out, anyway? What do you think?
Dina: Well you know what I think to some extent, from the novel.
Sharon: True. Yes, I do remember early on you quoted a midrash that goes like this:
Dinah went abroad to see the dancing and singing women, whom Shechem had hired to dance and play in the streets in order to entice her forth. Had she remained at home, nothing would have happened to her. But she was a woman, and all women like to show themselves in the street.(4)
Then you ask: "And why would Dinah have paraded herself before those women—your sisters—[you're writing again to Shechem] but that she was so needy for the company of women who danced for the gods. (p. 12)
I have something of a similar sense, as you'll see later. But first, I want to push this question a little further. Why did Dinah go out?
Dina: Well, if you've read the Targumim, you'll know that one [Pseudo-Jonathan] says: Dinah went out to see the customs of the daughters of the people of the land. I rather like this as it shows her curiosity, that she went out to investigate the local customs.
Sharon: So do I. The other idea, which is also brought forward by Ginzberg, and another of the Targumim [Neofiti] that she went out to let herself be seen rather than to see makes her out to be something of an exhibitionist. This is a possibility but I'm not so taken with it.
I know that I felt from the beginning that Dinah went out in a kind of rebellious mood. Not so much rebellious angry as rebellious independent. She wanted to know what was going on out there, beyond the family tents.
Dina: Yes. I sense that we share something here. A sense of independence, a liking to explore the world alone. We like this for ourselves, and we feel it in Dinah.
Sharon: Right. I think we share something here; and we differ about Leah.
Dina: Oh, Leah, yes.
Sharon: I know you see Leah as a bitter and dry woman. For you, Rachel is the one with the verve, the one who stole her father's idols and remained connected to the spirits of the Earth and trees.
Dina: Clearly the text gives reason to see Leah as having cause for bitterness, she was always the one not chosen, since Jacob preferred Rachel from the start.
Sharon: I agree. But I have seen Leah differently. The text tells us that Leah has poor eyesight. I see her as a woman with a lot of inner life, not all of it bitter at all.
Dina: That's interesting.
Sharon: Yes, I think so. Also, on this subject, do you know the midrash that has Leah speaking to God, putting forth the following logical argument (apparently one meaning of the Hebrew word din is "to argue logically"(5) ):
I have already given birth to six, and the handmaids have given birth to four. If this child of mine turns out to be another son, my sister Rachel will not be the equal of the handmaids. Immediately, her child became a girl, as it is said, She called her name Dinah."
What I like here is Leah's generosity and the way she thinks of her younger sister. I mean, she may envy her younger sister for her beauty, her sense of daring and initiative, her strength. But if I adopt this midrash, I say she still loved her sister despite the jealousy.
Dina: Hmmm. I like that. How about the midrash that compares Dinah to Leah for her "going out"?
Sharon: Where it says, "like mother, like daughter". Right. They speak of Leah going out to greet Jacob, that time when Rachel consents to let Leah call Jacob in to her, after Reuben her son [Leah's] had gathered fertility-inducing mandrakes from the field.
But I don't really understand. Because in that passage, Leah's going out is seen as positive: the rabbis in the Talmud say that because Leah went to call Jacob "for the fulfillment of a religious duty, she will beget sons whose like was not to be found even in the generation of Moses."(6)
Okay. So Leah's going out is a very positive thing. And then they say, like mother like daughter. Dinah also goes out. But her going out is a disaster, at least for the medieval commentators.
Dina: I don't know the answer to that. Let's move over to something else I find interesting. The discussion in Genesis Rabah of verse 9, "his soul did cleave unto Dinah". They had no doubt that love was involved: they even use the Dinah material to illustrate God's love for Israel! I find this astounding. But they saw love in the Dinah story as a danger, disruptive, a negative thing—which of course it is.
The midrash reads:
S. Simeon b. Lakish said: The Holy One, blessed be He, has expressed His love to Israel in three modes: d'bikah (cleaving), hashikah (yearning), and hafitsah (delighting in). … [That these terms sigify great love] we learn from the section about this scoundrel [Shechem]: D'bikah is in our text; hashikah, in The soul of my son Shechem longeth (hash'kah) for your daughter (verse 8); hafitsah, in the verse, Because he had delight (hafats) in Jacob's daughter (verse 19).
R. Abba b. Eliashib added two [expressions of deep affection]: ahavah (love), and dibbur (speech). Ahavah [is in the verse] I have loved (ahabti) you, saith the Lord (Mal. 1:2). Dibbur [we find in] Speak [dab'ru) hearteningly to Jerusalem, etc. (Isa. 40:2). These terms, too, we learn [are expressions of great love] in the section of that scoundrel [Shechem]: Ahabah, from He loved (vayye'ehab) the damsel (verse 3); dibbur, from He spoke (vay'daber) hearteningly unto the damsel (ibid.). Gen. R. 80)
Sharon: I'm glad you brought this in. I too find the learning of what is God's love for Israel from this story most startling. It stirs up for me a number of questions about God and love and procreation and creation and Creation: but that's for another time.
On another level, I really like the way they refer to "that scoundrel," not needing or bothering to name him. I don't like it because I love the attitudes it suggests, the disapproving fathers or uncles speaking about a boy who's going to get one of their girls in trouble. But it rings so true as dialogue: I can just hear them saying it. It could have been my father.
Before we leave these stories, Dina, I want to mention one that you may not have run into. It's from the medieval Sefer ha-Yashar and it is truly odd. Listen to this:
and Levi returned among the slain and took booty of all thier property in the citya nd in the field. As they were taking all the spoils, about three hundred women rose against them, throwing earth and hurling stones.(7)
Dina: That's amazing. No, I hadn't come across that one. How strange it is. It's almost as if the commentators repressed their guilty feelings about the slaughter and the guilty feelings came back as these stone-throwing women, who again were slaughtered.
Sharon: Yes. The women were powerful, and they were slaughtered because there was no pattern available for negotiating with them—well, maybe that's too personal a spin. In any case, there's more. The same midrash goes on to say that Simeon and Levi had captured virgins and youth from the city of Shechem and that Simeon fell in love with one of the virgins and married her.
Dina: Again, another kind of conquest, in the absence of any useful negotiating strategy.
Sharon: Okay, which brings us back to Dinah and Shechem, and the tragedy of the story. Here he was, having perhaps forced himself on this young girl Dinah, even if we suppose he did this. But then he falls in love and he wants to negotiate. And he's ready to go so very far, even to leading the way for all the males of his tribe to be circumcised in order to join together with Dinah, and to join the Israelites with the Canaanites. But the Israelites refuse. They can't do it. They have to resort to slaughter because they somehow are too afraid.
Dina: It is strange, isn't it.
Sharon: Yes it is. Think for example of the Book of Ruth. There we have a coming together of a foreign woman with an Israelite man, and the best possible outcome is achieved. She converts, and her child with Boaz becomes the progenitor of the Davidic line.
Dina: Right. Although it's not discussed in the story, one might see the circumcision of Shechem and his tribe as conversion, or a step on the path towards conversion. So what is the problem? It's not that the tradition is incapable of admitting the "Other" so to speak. As you've just pointed out, it happens powerfully in the Book of Ruth.
Sharon: It does. But here, for some reason, maybe because the dynamics are different with the gender roles reversed. Maybe for historical reasons: maybe this story is being told to explain something in retrospect, like the reason Simeon and Levi fare poorly, eventually. In any case, here the Other is somehow taken as terribly threatening. Which is why the contemporary Israeli/Palestinian parallel works in the novel.
Dina: And why I am so powerfully drawn to Shechem; because I am a woman who is drawn to the Other, a woman who naturally crosses boundaries as soon as she comes across them. This is why neither Deena M. nor I ever considered that the Dinah story was a story of rape. We always conceived of it as a love story with a horrific ending.
Sharon: Yes. Me too. And I too am a natural boundary crosser.
Dina: A woman who walks through walls . . .
Sharon: Dina. Let me ask you something. Is this crazy, what we're doing? Having this conversation, I mean. Does it make any sense at all for me to be talking with you?
Dina: You should know, Sharon. You are the creator here. You created me out of some relationship you felt with Deena M's character.
Sharon: Hmmm. True. But I don't feel like a creator at all.
Dina: No? What then?
Sharon: A wall. I feel like a wall. And all I'm doing is maybe opening a small door, to let something flow through.
Dina: Yup. I'll buy that. And Sharon . . .
Sharon: Yes . . .
Dina: You know it's going to be your turn soon, don't you? Your turn to walk through that wall and bring back Dinah.
Sharon: Yes, Dina, I know. I know, and I'm scared.
I am Dinah. The daughter of Leah. My father was Yaakov. I have been dead now so long I no longer care to count and in any case, I do not believe in time. Time is a journey. You are somewhere, and you are young, and you bend over and see the world upside down between your legs and you laugh; then you are somewhere else, and a child is at your breast in the shade of the afternoon, and you close your eyes.
And then sometimes, suddenly, you are nowhere. You are in the pit, without light, without air, like it happened once to my brother Joseph, and as it happened to me once. But I'll come to that later; later I will tell you everything.
First I want to tell you how it was before . . .
From the beginning, I wanted to know the secret. There was always a secret. It started when I was very small. I remember we were traveling with Ya'aqov my father and with my mother and Rachel and Zilpah and Bilhah and our animals and my brothers and our people to meet Esav my father's brother whom he was afraid of.
And he [Ya'aqov] rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two womenservants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford of Yabboq. . . . Genesis 32:23
Did you notice? They forgot to mention me. But I was there.
He [Ya'aqov] put her in a chest and locked it, saying: Esau has an arrogant eye; let him not cast his glance on her and take her from me.
Ahhh . . . ! He didn't know much then, my father. But that's how I first came to be close to the secret. Because they left the chest outside the tents, and it was big and old and soft on the inside and full of cracks. And in the middle of the night I sat up straight inside the chest, and I smelled stars in the cold night air and I heard a sound like the sound of the whole world together, a kind of hummm, and it was part of the smell of the night and the stars and I was terrified. And in the morning they unlocked the chest, and I ran down to the river bank and I saw my father come limping back to us, and I knew there was a secret and I had felt it.
Everyone wants to know why I went out: And Dinah the daughter of Leah whom she bore to Ya'aqov, went out to see the daughters of the land. (34:1)
That wasn't the first time I went out. The first time was when I pushed open the lid of the chest and ran down to he riverbank because I wanted to know. And when I heard the timbrels and I felt the rhythm of the dancing across the hills I went out again, and again, because I wanted to know.
Some today are pleased to say I went out because I was a rebel. I was not a rebel when I went out. I went out because the questions in my heart and in my belly and in the pit of my stomach pulled me out. I did not go out a rebel. I came back a rebel. But wait. I'm going too fast.
They kept me from my father's brother because they were afraid of my beauty. I was never beautiful. But I was alive. It was my questions that made me like that. You could see it. I was different. But not beautiful, not like my mother's sister Rachel. No. I am more like Leah, my mother, whom I love dearly. And Leah's eyes were weak; but Rachel was beautiful and well favored. And Ya'aqov loved Rachel; (29:17)
My eyes were weak too. I never used to see much back then. Sometimes it seemed in the early morning, when there was dew, or whenever there was mist or fog, then I could see. I did not see like other people. But I could feel. I lived by feeling. And smell. And music.
I was not clever, like some. Because I could not see as they saw, I could not speak as they did. I knew things in my body, like the secret that there is 'El, God of the universe, source of terror and wonder, source of all.
Oh, they would make me mad sometimes, the men in my family. The way that they pretended they were the only ones who knew the secret. The way they looked down on Rachel for her beautiful figurines. I loved those figurines, loved to hold them, feel the unevenness in the wood, to smell them. They reminded me of the trees, and the trees reminded me of my great grandfather Abraham. How could the men be so confused? Did they really think anyone would mistake Rachel's figurines for the 'El that has no form, that is, that is and is and becomes and becomes. Ach. I cannot understand them. And the things they did, it makes me want to vomit.
Forgive me. I wanted to speak about my great grandfather Abraham. I wished I could have met him. He planted trees. And I love trees. Do you know, when we left, much later, to travel down to Mitzrayim, we went through Beersheva. People told us, they showed us the grove of eshel, the tamarisk planted by Abraham, father of Yizhaq, father of Ya'aqov my father. Do you know about the tamarisk? I think it is my favorite tree. In the spring, its flowers are small and delicate, pink and white and clustered. It gives shade, the tamarisk, it is a wonder in the desert for its shade. But there is something more. The best is the tamarisk in the morning. In the morning, it is covered with tiny drops of water, and it is salty, the bark and branches are salty——Oh, how I would cry! Cry and cry and cry out of the pain in my soul. And go in the morning to sit beneath the tamarisk that Abraham planted and feel the cool from the water and the salt like my tears and feel not quite so terribly alone.
Do you want to know, now. I will tell you.
Dinah the daughter of Leah whom she bore to Ya'aqov went out to see the daughters of the land. Some say, went out to see the customs of the daughters of the land. Some said that I was lured out, that Shechem sent dancing girls to entice me to come out. They were all right, and they were all wrong.
You understand something now, already, don't you? I've told you why I went out. I went because I was called. I went because I had to. I felt the music, the rhythms called me, I went to see the women because I had to know.
And then, it was exciting. I went into the fields, and the women welcomed me and I danced with them, and I felt free, and I was happy. And then I saw Shechem. All the girls loved him. He was the most handsome and the most important, and his father Hamor was the chief, the most powerful man in the region.
But I didn't love Shechem because he was handsome and important. No. I didn't see that. It was his dark eyes, and his fragrant skin. He was—there—not so very close, not too far either, speaking with his sisters and some of the others, and he turned his head and looked at me, and I felt him, closer than my skin, and smelled his skin, even though he was not right by me.
And so, once more, one night I went out, pulled again by a secret. And I lay with Shechem under the stars. So many stars. And then, suddenly, I smelt the stars again, but this time with my terror there was pleasure, and there was the strength of Shechem's arms around me, as he filled me with seed, past counting, like the stars.
Shechem spoke to his father Hamor and Hamor promised to speak to my father and to pay whatever price was asked so that Shechem and I could live together, and learn from each other, and grow old together.
So I stayed with Shechem in his place, with his people. Their place was so much bigger, and different from our tents. I thought of my great grandmother Sara, when she had been sent by Abraham who was afraid, in to the palaces of Par'oh in Mitzrayim . . . How had she felt, then? Was she disturbed by all the riches that surrounded her, did the wealth pull at her? Did she want it? Or was she terrified, alone, afraid of those strange men, the Mitzrim? Were there women to receive her?
I was not afraid in Shechem's place. I was happy, there with his people. I had never felt so happy, or so strong, so powerful with the new secret Shechem and I had shared under the stars.
Now there were two secrets. Were they, somehow, the same secret? Right then I didn't know how to ask the question. I still don't know. I do want to know. I may never know.
Then the negotiations started. The women told me that Hamor had spoken well, saying,
The soul of my son Shekhem longs for your daughter: I pray you give her him to wife. And make marriages with us ; give your daughters to us, and take our daughters to you. And you shall dwell with us: and the land shall be before you; dwell and trade in it, and get property in it.34:8-9
It sounded so good to me. We would live together, my people and Shechem's people. Oh! Why are all the men in my family so afraid!! I thought my father would help. But it was not like that. He was silent. It was my brothers Simeon and Levi who spoke. Why were they so involved? What did they have to do with things? I hated them. And now, they were saying that Shechem had defiled me. How could they say that? It was wrong. They wanted to look good because of me.
And the sons of Ya'aqov answered Shekhem and Hamor his father with cunning, because he had defiled Dina their sister, and they spoke: and they said to them, We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one that is uncircumcised; for that would be a reproach to us: but in this will we consent to you: If you will be as we are, that every male of you be circumcised; then will we give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters to us, and we will dwell with you, and we will become one people. (34:14-15)
Still, I hoped. But I felt sick. I wanted so much for this to come to be, that we would live together, Shechem's people and my people. But they had to argue about property. Even Hamor convinced his people, saying:
Shall not their cattle and their substance and every beast of theirs be ours? Only let us consent to them, and they will dwell with us.
So his people listened.
And to Hamor and to Shekhem his son all that went out of the gate of his city hearkened; and every male was circumcised, and all that went out of the gate of his city. And it came to pass on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of the sons of Ya'aqov, Shim'on and Levi, Dina's brethren, took each man his sword, and came upon the city unresisted, and slew all the males. And they slew Hamor and Shekhem his son with the edge of the sword, and took Dina out of Shekehm's house, and went out.
And I fell, and fell, and fell into a pit of darkness. I could not breathe. I gagged, and I vomited, till there was nothing left of me. My bridegroom of blood. Gone. And all his people. I wish I could have screamed. I wish I could have stood up and told them that neither I nor any other woman would stand for their madness!
I had a dream.
As they were taking all the spoils, [about] three hundred women rose against them, throwing earth and hurling stones. [Sefer HaYashar]
I believe that the three hundred women were the women who had loved me, Shechem's sisters and my friends, the ones who danced and laughed with me. They rose and they fought, they picked up earth and they picked up stones, and they threw them at my brothers.
It was just a dream. No one fought back. I did not fight back. I froze inside. Something inside me seized up, clenched. My eyesight got even worse. I didn't understand. I was so, so lost. My mother Leah tried to comfort me. I felt her love. But there was no comfort.
I think I was crazy. I wondered if it had been my fault. Was it because of Rachel's figurines that I loved; was the 'El of all the universe punishing me? When I thought that, I truly wanted to die.
But I didn't really ever believe that. And there was always something that kept me alive. Our daughter, Asenat, was born. She kept me alive.
I had another dream, and I brought it to Joseph, my brother. I loved Joseph. He understood many things.
I dreamed of Asenat as a tiny baby, wrapped tight in linen and frozen, abandoned in a field of ice. No one cared to pick her up or even notice her. I saw her there and my heart moved, and I went to her and picked her up and held her to me until she became pink and warm again, pink and sweet like the blossoms of the tamarisk.
Joseph held me when I told him my dream, and he looked at me and smiled. This is good for you Dinah, he said.
When we were in Egypt, Joseph married Asenat, and together they had two sons: Ephraim and Manasseh, my grandsons. And when my father, Ya'aqov was very old, and frail, that mountain of fears and visions and strength that was my father became gentle. I held his hand, and his skin was so delicate and fine but I could still feel the strength of his will through his hand. And before he died, he cursed my brothers, Simeon and Levi for their violence, and he blessed my grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Stubborn to the end, he blessed them in the order he wanted to bless them in. But he blessed them, and my heart warmed a little more.
And now I will tell you something very interesting. I have been around a long, long time, now, a very long time. I have journeyed much. Oh, sometimes the journey seems so long. But I have never given up. I fight fear and violence from my heart. And every time my heart warms, becomes less numb, begins to heal, my eyes open a little. I have begun to see, and I am becoming very strong.
1. Page numbers in parentheses in this section refer to What Dinah Thought, by Deena Metzer, New York: Viking, © 1989. Return
2. Tan. Vayyishlah 5; Or Haafelah; Eccl. R. 10; Tan. Y. Yayyishlah 19., quoted in Kasher, op.cit., p. 258. Return.
3. Tan. Y. (MS) 1, 64a, quoted in Kasher, op. cit., p. 260. Return.
4. Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, quoted in Metzger, p. 12. Return.
5. Kasher, D.M. Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation, New York: American Biblical Encyclopedia Society, 1959, Genesis Vol. 4, p. 104. Return.
6. Erub. 100b. Gen. R. 72, quoted in Kasher, op. cit., p. 103. Return.
Midrash HaGadol; Sfer Hayashar, quoted in Kasher, op. cit., p. 262.
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The Aramaic Bible: The Targums, Collegeville, Minnesota:The Liturgical Press, 1977.
JPS Torah Commentory: Genesis, New York / Jerusalem:Jewish Publication Society, 1989.
Cross, F.M. Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the HIstory of the Religion of Israel, Cambridge, Mass.Harvard University Press, 1973.
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Kasher, D.M. Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation, New York:American Biblica Encyclopedia Society, 1959.
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Sheres, I. Dinah's Rebellion: A Biblical Parable for Our Time, New York:Crossroad, 1990.
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