Bereshit 1:27 – “And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them.”
- It is clear from the very beginning that within every human being is a spark of divinity. Each person is of inestimable worth. An abuser is determined to destroy the “tzelem” in his victim The victim must be helped to realize that their spark of the divine can never be destroyed.
Noach 6:11 – “The earth became corrupt before God.”
- Why does the verse add the words “before God”. These words appear superfluous. The following comment is offered in the Etz Chayim commentary, “God deemed their behavior corrupt, but they themselves saw nothing wrong with it.” In cases of domestic abuse, it is common for the abuser to consider his behavior as perfectly normal and fitting. Our tradition holds us to God’s standards and not human standards.
Lech Lecha 12:1 – “The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth (lech lecha) from your native land and from your father’s houseto the land that I will show you.’”
- The Hebrew expression lech lecha because of the doubling of the word lech and the second lecha, literally meaning “go to yourself,” is fertile ground for much interpretive comment. One can see this doubling as hint that Abram’s journey is both external and internal (lech the physical going out and lecha, the journey within). Abram must both physically leave Ur and spiritually leave Ur in order to break from idolatry and worship the one God.Similarly, the victim of abuse must journey without and within. Very often, they must physically leave the house they shared with the abuser and they must also leave the emotional and spiritual prison that the abuser has constructed for them. JCADA reminds the Jewish community that we must leave behind our perception that domestic abuse doesn’t happen in “our” community.
Vayeira 18:21 – “I will go down to see whether they have acted altogether according to the outcry that has reachedMe; if not, I will take note”
- This verse teaches us that the omniscient God must “go down” to witness the evidence of crueltyand abuse of Sodom and Gemorrah. So too must we, as a community and as individuals, descendfrom our “high perch” and bear witness to the cruelty and abuse that happens in far too manyJewish homes. Abraham’s mission is to be God’s partner and “to keep the way of the Lord by doingwhat is just and right. We are Abraham’s descendants.
Chayei Sarah 24:67 – “Isaac loves her…”
- Rabbi Harold Kushner offers the following comment on this verse in the Etz Chayim Commentary,“Isaac comes to love Rebecca after he marries her. Their love is the result, not the prerequisite of their relationship.”Certainly, “first comes marriage, then comes love” is not the norm in our modern society. And yet, we should not be quick to dismiss the wisdom in these words. Would it be that all relationships, marital and pre-marital, result in increasing the love between the partners. JCADA’s mission includes the important task of helping our teens identify the difference between a healthy and unhealthy relationship to help break the cycle of abuse for future generations.
Toledot 27:19-22 – “Jacob said to his father, ‘I am Esau, your first born…’ Isaac wondered, ‘The voice is the voice ofJacob, yet the hands are the hands of Esau.’”
- Jacob presents himself as his brother. He purposely deceives his father in order to receive Esau’s blessing. This deception leads to much pain and suffering.Deception plays a large role in the family dynamics of the household in which there is abuse. Often, to the outsider, the family appears perfectly normal. In fact, one might say that household in which there is abuse is an inverted Jacob. The hands (outer) are the hands of Jacob, smooth and refined, but the voice (inner) is the voice of Esau, rough and aggressive.
Vayetze 28:16 – “Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is present in this place and I did not know it.’”
- Jacob fled his angry brother. He was frightened. He was alone. And yet he comes to the realization, with his dream of the ladder, that God has not deserted him. God was present is this “any place” that he laid down his head. The most important thing that we can offer the victim of domestic abuse is our presence.Demeaned and frightened, they feel completely alone. JCADA is like Jacob’s ladder – both a welcoming and supportive presence and a way up and out, one wrung at a time.
Vayishlach 33:18 – “Jacob arrived safe (shalem) in the city of Shechem.”
- Just prior to this verse, the Torah tells us that Jacob was injured in his fight with the angel, and now walks with a limp. How is it that Jacob arrives in the city of Shechem shalem (literally “whole”)though he walks with a limp? The great Hasidic sage Menahem Mendel of Kotzk taught, “There is nothing so whole as a broken heart.” Perhaps, Jacob’s physical injury strengthened his soul.Perhaps the arrogant, conniving Jacob was now humbled and finally able to fill his role as the father of a great people.A “broken heart” – emotional and physical trauma leaves a terrible mark on the psyche of the victim of the abuse. And yet, this does not mean that the victim is weak and broken. Surviving domestic abuse with the help of JCADA can leave a person with a reservoir of strength and resilience that can provide inspiration for all.
Vayeshev 39:20 – “So Joseph’s master had him put in prison, where the king’s prisoners were confined. But even while he was there in prison, the Lord was with Joseph…”
- Joseph’s young life was filled with ups and downs, both literal and figurative. He was lifted up by his father and cast into a pit by his brothers. He rose up to be the head of Potiphar’s household and he was thrown into a prison framed by Potiphar’s wife. Through it all, the Torah tells us, God was with Joseph. Would that we had such assurance of God’s presence, through our trials and tribulations; for to be alone is the most terrible blow of all.There are those among us, Jewish women and men, whose lives have known terrible hardship akin to Joseph’s. Like Joseph, they have been abandoned and brutalized by those who should hold them most dear. Jewish victims of domestic abuse are often alone in their suffering. Isolated by their abusers and by a community that does not want to hear their plight, likeJoseph, they too need God’s presence. Thank God, there is JCADA, an organization that provides real support, a helping hand to lift them up and return them to the dignity they deserve. Acting as partners with God, JCADA reminds the Josephs in our midst that they too are not alone.
Miketz 41:51 – “Joseph named the first born Menashe… meaning, ‘God has made me forget completely my hardship and my parental home.’”
- What did it mean for Joseph to forget the hardship of his parental home? Clearly, Joseph was still very much aware of his past and his pain. He named his son Menashe not because he has wiped clean his memory. He named his son Menashe because he is no longer imprisoned by the terrible memories of betrayal and abandonment. He has charted a new path and new life in spite of his hardships. Joseph’s rebirth took courage more than forgetfulness.So too it is with victims of domestic abuse. Women and men who leave abusive relationships and struggle to recapture their lives are not able to wipe clean their memories. They are able, with the help ofJCADA, to courageously go on with their lives in spite of their painful memories. Just as Joseph is a role model for us; so too are these survivors.
Vayigash 45:5- “Now do not be distressed or reproach yourself because you sold me hither; it was to save life thatGod sent me ahead of you.”
- Joseph’s understanding of God’s hand in his arduous life journey and his brothers’ treachery negated the possibility of victimhood. Neither he nor his brothers were victims to fate but recipients of God’s blessings. Joseph saw God as having a greater plan for us despite our troubles and travails.The work of JCADA is to help those suffering domestic abuse see that victimhood does not define them. They are supported and empowered to seek safety and move on with their lives as best as they can. This battle to see a hopeful future requires great courage.
Vayehi 49: 24 –“…By the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob- There, the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel.”
- Jacob referred to God as a shepherd and a rock. These images are used to convey the double message that God is both a guide to His flock and steadfast like a rock. We human beings need both aspects of God.Certainly, if ordinary men and women need guidance and steadfastness, then the most vulnerable among us need guidance and steadfastness as well. Jewish victims of domestic abuse are the most vulnerable among us. In our community, JCADA is a steadfast guide to a population desperately in need of safety and support.