Eikev: Great Source

“Paradoxes of Authority,” in Lifecycles, Volume 2 was written by Diane O. Esses (often cited as Cohler-Esses), identified as the first Syrian-Jewish woman ordained as a rabbi.

Esses points out that Moses’ speech in Deuteronomy/Devarim is not simply a synopsis of all that came before in the Exodus and desert narratives. Instead, it is a re-telling, “a process essential to the Jewish tradition.”


Repeating the story is a subversive act if done correctly. While it may look like I am merely telling the story again, if I do it with my whole being, “the” story will necessarily be transformed by who I am, by my story….

In the process of transmission, I am telling the story right now, in this moment of history to you. If the “I” or the “you” or the “now” is lost, it is not truly transmission.

The “creative betrayal” of transmission becomes most apparent when those who were marginalized by the tradition grant themselves the authority to stand in the center and tell the story….

It is my prayer that all Jews take the commandment to transmit the tradition, the commandment “to betray” the past, as the holiest of obligations — thereby perpetually transforming the tradition into a living and wild thing.


I wonder how the story might continue to betray itself. I can only imagine my distant future as a wizened rabbi, a wise old hag who peers through a magnifying glass at the Bible and Talmud, at the poetry of Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde, teaching the ways of manifold “torot” (plural of Torah). I imagine that I will be asked to tell the story of my life, as old people should be asked, and I might, in a voice quivering with age, tell the following…:

Do you remember how Abraham left everything he knew and then Rebecca left her entire family never to see them again, and Jacob ran away from home and then ran away again from his father-in-law’s household and Rachel and Leah ran away from home with Jacob – Rachel stealing the holy objects that belonged to her father? And that eventually all the Jews left Egypt and wandered in the desert and went to the promised land? And then they were chased out of the land of Israel and went to Babylon and beyond, and the Jews scattered all over the world – to places like Yemen and India and Syrian and even Europe? And do you remember how in modern times they left those lands and went to the North and South Americas and created a state in Israel and how most Syrian Jews settled in New York and became a thriving clan that multiplied and multiplied?

Well at some point it was time for me to leave, to join all those others who had left – not in order to become different – but truly to become a Jew. I lived out the Jewish story by leaving, by wandering. by journeying, by becoming a stranger. I traveled far from all the things that were familiar to me and settled in a foreign land where the European Jews did not understand or even know the ways of Eastern Jews. It was my job to explain it to them, to tell the story of my exodus and make them understand why I left that world, and how it was so different and full of so many treasures that they couldn’t ever imagine. Yet I left behind all those treasures that I was trying so hard to keep and to pass on to the European Jews. And I tried to tell the European strangers that their ways were not the only Jewish ways in the world and neither were they the best, because as soon as you believe that, your world becomes Egypt, and it’s time to leave again.

And so I left again and again, exodus upon exodus. It is the way of the Jews to become strangers in the world perpetually.

(Re)telling Your Own (Heretical) Story…. Name the authorities that you had as a child and the sources of authority you relate to now. Trace your evolution, and then try to envision [a future path ]…. Do you want to be more of an authority yourself? What sources of authority would you like to drawn on? How would you ideally like to wield authority? Answers to these questions will both revise and revitalize our ancestral history.


The excerpt is shared for the purposes of learning and to encourage folks to peruse the rest of this essay and the entire volume, Lifecycles v.2: Jewish Women on Biblical Themes in Contemporary Life. If you don’t already have a copy, consider getting one from Jewish Lights; used copies are available from Abe, among other sources.

See Cohler-Esses’ related post, We are the Narrative.

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Virginia hosts "Conversations Toward Repair" on We Act Radio, manages WeLuvBooks.org, blogs on general stuff a vspatz.net and more Jewish topics at songeveryday.org and Rereading4Liberation.com

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