All Her Life
Bruriah rose above what she knew of men- even or especially the learned sages who populated her world. She knew of their pitiful inability to get comfortable in the presence of a woman who was at the very least their equal. She lashed out, but she lived among them; she provoked but ultimately she accommodated their weakness. She traded skillfully in their currency, managing to push the limits of learning and still land within bounds, mostly on her feet. She scoffed, she upbraided, but she forgave. She outshone, but she tolerated. While she was well aware of the fault-lines, she shared their faith in a certain world order. If indeed Rashi is right and Bruriah took her own life, she did so out of rage. She cut short her earthly experience because of unbearable disillusionment and the inevitable rage that would engender. Unable to turn that rage against the others, she turns it against herself.
The foundational myth of a traditional Jewish upbringing (and for that matter just about all traditional upbringings) is that men are more central than women while women were created by God to be men’s servants and helpmates. In traditional families, fathers run our households while our mothers make the masculine will manifest in a myriad of appreciated but far more trivial details. Our brothers have the rightful portion of leadership and learning, and until recently, in orthodox circles, only the most exceptional of Bruriah- type daughters might partake in a portion of leftovers.
Withal, there is a subterranean, unspoken counter-knowledge, a heterodox truth alluded to in whispers, hinted at in hushed laughter. We daughters live in daily awe of the discrete and direct strength of our mothers, much as we frequently intuit the fragility of our fathers. We understand that the established order has been imposed in order to restore to men a power-base they do not come by naturally. In my childhood home, as in many others, the intimation of this reversal of assigned attributes had to go underground. It was far too subversive to be spoken, much less explored.
Maintaining an illusion has all kinds of hidden costs. At this time, my returning to the world of ancient tradition calls for addressing a deceptive imbalance.
And You Will Love
Bruriah – you glimpse, you look away, you grapple and again you grasp hard to certainty, you see the chasm and yet you reaffirm the world order. Do you know who you are? You make yourself small even as your wisdom and your umbrage grow large. You snipe but you do not shoot to kill.
Then one day you are naked – ve’at erom ve’erya – and there is no covering up all that has been exposed. The rabbis say that illicit uncovering of genitals is one of the three sins whose avoidance calls for giving up your life. But I do not believe you killed yourself in expiation of mortal sin. You end your life naked, transgressive, disgraced – with bruises harshly exposed. Yours is a state of alienation so utter it will blacken all of our worlds, this trouble-ridden world below and many worlds to come.
World Split Open
The orthodox wife, mother and daughter is groomed to love something bigger, something better, something stronger and more reliable than herself. All along she suspects and she denies. Commitment to spiritual evolution thrusts us into the vista beyond the patriarchal deception. Bruriah could find no place for herself in that no-man’s land. And yet, and still, and relentlessly, you will love…
How do we love when the illusion of The All Powerful is shattered? How do we live with everything that we know and all that we are? A poet I admire Muriel Rukeyser once said “If one woman would tell the truth about her life, the world would split open.” Maybe it already has. Who’s going to be around now that it’s time to pick up the pieces?