by Carrie Bornstein
In high school I spent six weeks in Israel, and snorkeled off the coast of Eilat. There was something about being in the warm water, looking down, and seeing a glimpse of the world we never get to see. I had an intense feeling of being reduced to just a tiny speck of creation, at once all alone and yet so connected to everything around me. Dare I say, I think I felt God.
There’s something transformative about water. We all carry around stories like this, and they inform our life’s journey.
In fact, we have a strong foundation for this in Judaism.
In the story of Dinah (yes – the one from the Tent), we learn of her rape, her attacker’s abuse and controlling behavior, and how he continued to pursue her for marriage. And we learn how Dinah’s brothers tried to protect her, standing up for her and speaking on her behalf. What I hadn’t realized until now, is that Dinah was likely a teenager when this all happened.
The Hebrew word for water is Mayyim.
Mah – im.
Mayyim is “water,” and mah im is “what if”?
We don’t know exactly what happened next in the story. But I wonder, what if Dinah had access to the transformative power of water? What if she could visit a place that offered her resources when she was ready for it? What if sensitive, trained women guided her through a powerful healing water ritual?
It may be a stretch, but right after this story God tells Dinah’s father, Jacob, to go to Beit-El, stay there, and build an altar to God. Interestingly, Jacob, perhaps still reeling from his daughter’s trauma, wasn’t ready to go immediately. He gathered his household and everyone around him, instructing them – v’hitaharu – purify yourselves – wash your clothes. This phrase is repeated a number of times in the Torah, which we generally understand to mean immerse in water.
Are these moments connected? I wonder. Mayyim. Mah im. What if Jacob felt that before approaching God, his whole family needed some healing? What if they used the water in some way to give them hope for the future? To move from feeling betrayed by God, to being in conversation with God?
It’s certainly what happens at Mayyim Hayyim.
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. And while we don’t know all the details, we also know that Dinah’s story is not entirely hypothetical. We can take a lesson here in breaking the silence around abusive relationships and supporting one another in times of need, so teens like Dinah need not think they have to endure such relationships. Even one conversation about safe and healthy relationships can help. One suggestion to become embraced by healing waters can make a difference. I imagine that had our colleagues at Journey to Safety been able to support Dinah, had she come to Mayyim Hayyim to aid in her healing process, she’d have been a lot better off.
Carrie Bornstein is Mayyim Hayyim’s Executive Director. Follow her on twitter @carolinering.