Like many of my generation, I use Facebook frequently. I like saying “happy birthday” to people, seeing pictures of children and grandchildren, and knowing the minutia of my friends’ lives, even if they live far away.
I’m not a big fan of the political threads, or the silly “Respond to this to prove you’re my true friend” campaigns, but I’ll put up with them.
And I’ve watched people jump on a particular bandwagon or message often enough, that I wasn’t surprised by the #MeToo campaign. Yes, I was shocked to learn last week that more than 13 million women had chimed in. But the truth is, I was more surprised by the many women who felt that they couldn’t.
They fretted about it on women’s forums – that it might affect their job prospects or their current job status. That their family would find out. That they would be judged for not posting it. That they would be judged for posting it. Or even that what they had experienced – the casual everyday harassment that women endure – didn’t qualify.
I found the posts on the women’s clergy forums to be especially distressing, because clergy women of all faiths were sharing their fears about their congregants finding out, or that the perpetrator in their congregation would “punish” them for publicizing the abuse. Or they were speaking out, but only in the safety of those forums, not publicly.
All of which brings me to this week’s Torah portion, Lech L’cha. It begins with a pivotal and uplifting moment in Genesis, when God speaks to Abraham and tells him to “get yourself up and go to a place that I will show you,” adding “I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.”
But just a few verses later Abraham does something that is anything but a blessing. As they travel to Egypt because of a famine, Abraham tells his wife Sarah to pose as his sister, to protect his life in case someone decides to take her for himself. Sure enough, she catches Pharaoh’s eye and is taken to join his concubines. As someone in my Torah study class pointedly said, Abraham pimped her out.
The tale ends happily enough, as Sarah is restored to her husband. But there is one thing missing – Sarah’s voice. She never says a word, neither this time nor when Abraham does the same thing again with another king.
Sarah’s silence speaks volumes to the millions of women who have said Me Too and to the millions who haven’t. The Talmud teaches us that silence implies consent. But we know that is not always true. Sometimes silence signifies shock, fear, denial, anger, a literal inability to speak, or all of the above.
When God says lech l’cha to Abraham, it is usually translated as telling him to physically leave his home. But it can also be read as God saying “Go into yourself to a place that I will show you.” Perhaps God is taking him on a spiritual journey, as well as a physical one. For me, on both the physical and spiritual planes of his journey, Abraham failed his wife. We are left with her silence and her pain.
Some women want to rewrite Sarah’s story to give her a voice. I prefer that we tell the stories of the many women who walk the earth today and have not spoken, not felt safe to say me too. May their pain be eased, and may their voices be restored.