My older brother feels guilty about something he did to me long ago when I was a very little girl. This is not an incident that left behind a conscious trace in my memory, it is not something I recall, certainly not something I am in any way aware of holding against him. I am one of those younger sisters who always adored her older boy sibling – maybe even a little too much. Apparently I could be quite the nuisance, tagging along with his friends, insisting on being included, always wanting to be part of my brother’s gang.
He tells me that one summer in the Catskills when he was about seven years old and I wasn’t more than four, I insisted on coming along when he and his buddies went off to a secret hideout in the forest. He repeatedly warned me not to follow but I cheerfully ignored him. He called me names and still I kept trailing the guys with a trusting smile. He pushed me down, but ever resilient, I bounced up and would not be dissuaded.
Finally, in desperation he turned around, yanked up my dress and pulled down my panties in front of all those boys. I burst into tears and ran away and could not soon be persuaded to keep company with him again.
The Dark Shadow Falls
The Jewish sages have never underestimated the explosive power of a woman’s animal sexuality, unbridled and unrestrained. It is for this reason that women are ordered to dress modestly, cut off their hair, suffer banishment to balconies and exclusion from the devotional quorum. But then there is the occasional Bruriah who seems to be mocking the necessity for all that.
Bruriah wants in, despite her physicality that goes unmentioned, and not for her womanly charms, but for her erudition and her smarts. She knows that she more than merits inclusion. Perhaps she is trying to pave the way for other women. But the “grown-up” little boy rebbes just can’t get comfortable around her. When all else fails, her husband arranges for one of his disciples to pull down her pants.
In retelling the nearly-forgotten story, Rashi wants us to know where the dark shadow falls.
Just in Time
What about that impious, sexy widow named Homa who bares her arm in the Talmud story? ( see “Soul Shards” https://susanrtorn.wordpress.com/2011/06/29/276////) Maybe some time in her little girl past someone tried to shame her too. But as Homa grew older she cultivated the womanly arts of transforming shame into power. A wiley seductive woman will not hesitate to trot out her most effective resource when she is in a tight spot.
What would happen if Homa met Bruriah? What would they say to one another? Even though Homa and Bruriah are both women who share a rare mention by name in the Talmud, they lived countries and centuries apart. The sad truth is that one woman is run out of town with stripes down her back and the other may well have taken her own life. In my remake of the story, they reach out to one another just in time. They teach one another alternative skills, gracing circumscribed lives with resources and new perspectives. Imagine Bruriah grounding Homa in the cultivation of an able mind; imagine Homa helping Bruriah to transform humiliation into clout.