The Red Tent
Part Two, Chapter 4
One night, a stranger appears in the family’s camp and introduces himself as Eliphaz, the eldest son of Esau. He reports that Esau is coming with his brothers, wives, and bondsmen to greet Jacob and his family. Jacob, who had been planning to divide his family and move in two directions so that Esau could not destroy them all in one attack, worries. He now must wait for Esau’s arrival, since the river behind them bars any escape. Jacob directs the family to put on their finest attire and offers Eliphaz beer and food. Before long, Esau appears with his family behind him. Jacob and Esau walk out to greet each other alone. Jacob bows low to Esau and greets him as a slave would a master, but Esau pulls him up and hugs him tight to his chest. Jacob offers many sheep and goats as offerings to his brother, and they introduce the two families to one another, with Jacob carefully differentiating his wives.
Dinah spies a girl her height among Esau’s children. The two girls become fast friends by telling each other stories about their respective families. Tabea mentions that the women of her clan do not celebrate the new moon in the red tent, because their shared grandmother Rebecca, the Oracle of Mamre disapproves of the red tent. Dinah tells Tabea about the world inside the red tent, including the songs, cakes, and stories contained therein. The two girls speculate about who will reach womanhood first. Tabea proclaims she wants no children, since she has seen many women die in childbirth. Instead she would prefer to serve at Mamre or sing at a great altar.
The two families enjoy a large evening meal together at which Esau and Jacob tell stories. The men begin singing, and soon the women and children join in. The next day, Jacob rejects his brother’s offer to join him on his lands and chooses instead to find his own lands for his family to make their fortune. Tabea and Dinah kiss goodbye, knowing they will see each to again soon at their grandmother Rebecca’s tent for the barley festival. The next day, Jacob finds a spot of land he likes near Succoth and declares it their new home.
Dinah has trouble adjusting to the daily routines of life after the longs months of travel. She begins to do more baking and brewing, graduates from spinning to weaving, and is given charge of the bondswomen’s children. In the meantime, Judah, Simon, and Levi all marry. One morning, a woman’s voice is heard in their camp, calling for the wives of Jacob. It is a messenger from Jacob’s mother Rebecca, calling them all to the barley festival. The messenger has a silvery dress and red hair, and her name is Werenro. Werenro rests in their camp and joins them for the evening meal. She sings a beautiful and memorable song to them about the beginning of the world. After dinner, the women begin to plan for the trip to Mamre.
Jacob reunites with Esau, assuaging his fears. As the two families meet each other, Dinah begins to understand how her father perceives the women in the family. Against all expectations, Esau is warm, welcoming, and ecstatic at reuniting with his brother. Inna laughs to herself at Jacob’s foolishness, though his wives wisely keep silent. For the first time, Dinah hears the distinction between Jacob’s wives voiced publicly. Jacob introduces his family to Esau one by one, calling Leah and Rachel his wives and Zilpah, “Leah’s girl,” and Bilhah, “Rachel’s handmaid.” Dinah notices that the heads of the women’s sons drop to hear their mothers so named, and she becomes more aware of her favored status both as the sole daughter of Jacob and the child of his first wife, Leah. She finds many girls among Esau’s children but reminds herself that she is the daughter of Jacob, the favored son. In the weeks since their journey from Haran began, Dinah has continued to create an independent identity for herself. She has developed a strong sense of pride and distances herself from the young girls who follow after their mothers
Dinah’s introduction to her cousin Tabea opens her eyes to a new and disparate world of women’s rituals and beliefs. She is shocked to learn that Tabea’s family does not honor the women’s practices in the red tent. As she explains the ritual of marking the new moon, Dinah realizes its significance in her life and thinks of how fortunate she feels to participate in her mothers’ traditions. She feels pity for Tabea, whose mothers do not celebrate together and who are disliked by their grandmother. As a result, Dinah’s growing sense of superiority further increases. Tabea’s proclamation that she does not plan to have children shocks Dinah. Schooled in the ways of her family, Dinah cannot imagine a life for herself in which children do not surround her. Since she has already begun to learn the skills of healing and midwifery from Rachel, she feels attracted to the power of women to carry and bear life and knows that childbearing lies in her future. Though they are the same age, Dinah feels wiser than Tabea and more knowledgeable about the life of women.
Werenro, a fictional creation of Diamant’s, has a tremendous impact on Dinah. Werenro is the first woman she has met who is not a wife or mother, but instead she is a servant to her grandmother and a symbol of the power of the matriarch of her family. Werenro’s exotic red hair and position as messenger seem entirely foreign to Dinah, and she cannot help but want to know more about this woman who wears the pierced earring of a slave. Dinah imagines her as a wild, carefree woman. Werenro says little to the family but beckons Dinah to sit by her and smiles when she sees that Dinah enjoys her song. Dinah makes a connection with Werenro through her song, empathizing with the messenger’s loneliness at being far away from home. She also begins to feel a stirring within her to see more of the world herself, to see the things that Werenro has seen. Her connection to Werenro is rekindled later in the novel when they meet again.
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