Sarai, the fighter. Unsafe in Egypt (Gen. 12:10-20). So what does she do?
She “fights like a girl.”
I remember that phrase from childhood. It meant, I think, that men fight honourably. With fists. And a little shoving.
But not with scratching, hair pulling, or eye-jabbing. Only girls do those.
Somehow, boys were expected to learn this. In some kind of fight school. On the neighbourhood streets. Or at the local gym, if there was one.
But we girls had our own fight school. More like a support group, actually. What do you do when someone on the subway gropes you? “I use the strap-hanger’s elbow jab to the ribs.” “But I prefer a sharp stomp to the instep.” What if someone’s exposing himself? Or touching himself? “He’s in his own world. Probably not dangerous.”
So, we were prepared. For some situations. A quiet park, for example. In daylight. A man drives up, exits the car and grabs you. What do you do? Focus with lightning precision. Quickly assess. Is he young and quick? You can’t just run. Is the ground bumpy, so he’s unsteady on his feet? You can push him. He’ll fall back onto his car. So the sharp door handle hits his back. Surprised that you’re not an easy mark, he’ll retreat. If you’re lucky. And then you can walk away. Intact but annoyed.
At least, that’s what I did.
For some situations, you can’t prepare at all. When you wake up on the ferry, for example. With a man on top of you. Half-conscious, you kick and push and claw. Somehow you repel him. He flies back, finds his footing, and runs off laughing with his friends. So, you wonder, where the hell are the staff? Did they really leave me all alone here to fight like a girl?
Yes, Laura, they did.
Occasionally a miracle happens. Say, for example, you’re in a holy city. A popular but quiet pilgrimage place. Like Assisi. You visit the Basilica of St. Francis. A young monk shows you the chapel, the art. Then he says, “Good look! Very beautiful!” He ushers you through a door onto a huge balcony. You can see the whole countryside, lush and green. The he quickly kisses your cheek. “You like I kiss you?” he asks in broken English.
“No!” you say.
Startled, he jumps back. Maybe his English didn’t come out right. “But it’s good when I kiss you?” “No,” you say. “No. It is not good. I do not like it.” Puzzled, he takes another step back and looks at your face.
“Please unlock this door,” you say, “I want to go back inside.” And because the monk fears God, or does enough self-examination to own his shame, he lets you back in.
Something like that happens to Sarai. Poor beautiful Sarai. She enters a safe marriage, with first cousin Abram. Or so she thinks. Who could predict he would be a pimp? So, he takes Sarai to Egypt. Presents her as his sister. “So things will be good for me,” he says. Pharaoh offers “brother” Abram a nice bride-price for Sarai. Slaves, sheep, cattle, and camels. But God plagues Pharaoh with terrible plagues over the matter of Sarai. Who is, after all, Abram’s wife. When Pharaoh gets it, then he backs off.
Over the matter of Sarai. In Hebrew: al dvar Sarai (Gen.12:17). A phrase that can also be translated: at the word of Sarai. God strikes Pharaoh with terrible plagues at the word of Sarai. So, what word do you think that is? I’d guess it’s “No.”
Midrash spells it out (Bereisheet Rabbah 41:2). Sarai invokes an angel, who holds a staff. When Pharaoh so much as touches her dress, Sarai says the word. And then the angel hits Pharaoh with the staff. Over and over again, until Pharaoh gets it. Thus, you can see why I’m betting the word is “No!”
Sarai is powerful. But, the midrash makes clear, women don’t usually have this power. This is exceptional. Supernatural. Miraculous. An agent of God is present. So is Pharaoh’s conscience. He fears God. Respects social rules. And feels shame when he breaks them.
Sarai, I’m sure, was ready to fight like a girl. But, by some miracle, she didn’t have to that day. Her “No!” was heard loud and clear.
But you know what I’m going to say. Consent is cool. It shouldn’t take a miracle.