Those are the words we're hearing and seeing again and again these few weeks. Girls. Women. Mom's. Grandmas. Black, white, Jewish. Affirmations that they, too had been sexually harassed.
Started as a campaign several years ago by an African American activist named Tarana Burke, #metoo came back to the fore as a result of the recent Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal, which turns out to be a cascading scandal of Hollywood and political leaders being outed as harassers, abusers of power and authority.
Like many men, I've been watching and listening, horrified. What can one say to seeing hundreds, if not thousands, of responses from family and friends and allies and colleagues and congregants and strangers about their experiences? And what of those who feel that they can’t share, even now, so many years later?
I teach Torah. Torah is the lense through which I see the world. and I look to the Torah and see another Me too moment. Sarai (eventually Sarah) and Avram (eventually Abraham) will, after reaching the promised Land, go down to Egypt to avoid famine. There, Avram will ask Sarai to pretend that she is his sister, fearful that Pharoah will kill him for her. So she plays along with the ruse, and soon enough, Pharaoh wants Sarai for his harem. As her “brother”, Avram benefits beautifully with great wealth--”a bride price”. It takes a plague by God to stop Pharaoh, who banishes Avram and Sarai due to Avram’s actions.
(This, by the way, is referred to at the "Sister/Wife" motif and will occur two more times in Genesis. It doesn't get any funnier.)
Me too, says Sarai. Me too, victim not just of Pharoah’s power mad antics but also her husband's fear and failure to see his spouse as anything more than than a bargaining chip.
We might say his story is a product of its time, but the text itself seems to be calling out Avram for his behavior. Certainly the rabbis pull all their hair out trying to justify, rationalize, and indeed, call Avram on the carpet for his behavior.
Me too, says the Torah.
Each of us have, at some point, witnessed harassment. How many times did we stand up against it, take the offending person behind the woodshed, sounded the alarm? How often did we meekly apologize to the victim, and make excuses? How often, after hearing accusations, did we try to justify an abuser's actions? How often did we do nothing?
The text holds up a model of behavior for us. Not Avram and certainly not Pharaohz but God. God intervenes. God stops the actual abuse. Now, we can't hit folks with a plague, but we can speak out. We can stand up. We can take victims’ stories seriously. We can and must. Even when it's hard. Even when we are fearful. If these women are brave enough to describe their moments of abuse and harassment, can we as bystanders really say we lack courage?
Sarai says Me too. God says: be a blessing. Let's choose to be a blessing.