Leaving Genesis: Departing Women

This week’s Torah portion is Vayechi (“Jacob lived [in the land of Egypt]… “) — Genesis 47:28 – 50:26 — which closes the book of Genesis.

A few weeks back (Vayishlach, Gen. 32:4 -36:43), we read of Rachel’s death and Dinah’s rape.

Vayeishev (Gen 37:1 – 40:23) opens with a mention of Bilhah and Zilpah and includes Potiphar’s wife as a character important to the story. It also highlights Tamar’s extraordinary efforts to bear children in Judah’s family.

Mikeitz (Gen 41:1 – 44:17) mentions that Asenath, daughter of Poti-phera, bears two sons to Joseph.

Vayigash (Gen. 44:18 – 47:27) includes no women except within the Egypt-bound genealogy: Leah, Zilpah, Rachel and Bilhah as mothers; Dinah as daughter; Serah bat Asher; and Asenath, as wife of Joseph. Perez and Zerah, by the way, appear as Judah’s sons with no mention of Tamar as their mother.

This week’s portion includes no living women, although Jacob mentions Rachel, who “died on” [“meitah alai“] him on the road.

Women will play major roles again, when Exodus opens with all that birthing, but the last we see or hear of women in Jacob’s immediate family is a death by the side of the road and a rape.

Earlier in Genesis, the disappearance of women from the story arguably represents a kind of banishment of the mundane from spirituality or the exile of spirit from our everyday lives. What does our parting from the women of Genesis in these later chapters mean?

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