Leviticus

Vayikra 1:2 – “Speak to the Israelite people, and say to them: ‘When any of you presents an offering of cattle to the Lord, he shall choose his offering from the herd or from the flock.’”

  • The Hebrew word for offering or sacrifice is korban which comes from the root kufreshbet – meaning to draw close. Victims of domestic abuse have been sacrificed on the altar of “not in our community” for far too long. We must see tackling this issue as our korban; our attempt at bringing ourselves closer to God; closer to our purpose on the planet – “to praise, to labor, and to love.” 

Tzav 7:12 – “If he offers it for thanksgiving, he shall offer together with the sacrifice of thanksgiving unleavened cakes with oil mixed in…” 

  • The todah/thanksgiving offering was given after a person had been saved from a life-threatening experience. In a sense, the person was given a second chance at life. Echoes of this biblical sacrifice are found in the practice of saying birkat ha-gomel before the Torah, the blessing of praise of God offered by a person who completed a dangerous journey, or recovered from an illness.No doubt, everyone has experienced, to one degree or another, the great relief of having survived a dangerous encounter; of moving from vulnerability to security. We can then only begin to imagine what the victim of domestic abuse must feel; being unsafe and completely vulnerable in their own home. And we can then only begin to understand the relief that JCADA provides to these women and men when they support them in moving from danger to security. 

Shemini 11:7 – “…and the pig – although it has true hoofs, with the hoofs cleft through, it does not chew the cud; it is impure for you.” 

  • Jewish tradition ascribes a particular spiritual/moral deficiency to the pig. The reason is the pig has“kosher feet” but does not chew its cud; meaning it has cloven hoofs and thus appears kosher on the outside while hiding its treif nature from the world. My mother told a story about a relative who was like the pig. He used to bring his own pots and pans to my Bubby’s home, because he didn’t trust my grandmother’s kashrut, yet it was plain enough that he beat his wife. JCADA deals with far too many “religious” Jewish men whose “piety” is a mere subterfuge. 

Tazria 13:3 – “The priest shall examine the affection on the skin of his body…when the priest sees it, he shall pronounce him impure.” 

  • According to Rabbi Harold Kushner in the Etz Hayim Commentary, “One commentator reads this as ‘when the priest sees him’ (Meshekh Hokhmah). The priest is to examine the whole person, not only the diseased limb. He is to see what his whole and healthy about the person, not only what is afflicted.”  JCADA helps us look at the total person. A victim of domestic abuse who seeks help is much more than just a victim. They are a full person with incredible strength who has something to teach all of us.

Metzorah Lev: 14:45 – “The house shall be torn down…” 

  • The Rabbis see this as a foreshadowing of the destruction of the Temple; a “house” that will be torn down by the evil of its inhabitants. The evil of domestic abuse is a negah/plague not only on and in the home where it occurs, but also on and in the communal house as well. How often we hear about a crime against a stranger being committed by an abusive spouse who, eventually, lashes out against others as well. The bayit m’nugah, the afflicted house, is a moral warning to all.

Acharei Mot 18:5 – “You shall keep My laws and My rules by the pursuit of which man shall live; I am the Lord. None of you shall come near anyone of his own flesh to uncover nakedness; I am the Lord…”

  • The repetition of “I am the Lord/ Anee Hashem” in these two verses reminds us that God is a part of our lives even in the most “intimate” of settings. Abuse and indecency in a family is not a private matter but an offense against God. Additionally the phrase “…of which man shall live/v’chai bachem” has been understood by the Rabbis as the basis for arguing that martyrdom is prohibited except in three cases; murder, incest, and adultery. One should die rather than compromise one’s sexual propriety. How much the more so, one should not commit an act of sexual abuse.

Acharei Mot 18:25 – “Thus the land became defiled, and I call it to account for its iniquity, and the land spewed out its inhabitants.”

  • What a powerful image. Taking advantage, abusing others, is not merely a personal offense, the collective is defiled as well.

Kedoshim 19:18 – “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your neighbor as yourself.” 

  • Martin Buber understood this commandment (love your neighbor as yourself) as being connected to the preceding one, “you shall not take vengeance.” Because all human beings are part of the same body, to hurt another person in an effort to get even is to hurt part of oneself. He compares it to a person whose hand slips while holding a knife and he stabs himself. Should he stab the offending hand that slipped, to get even with it for hurting him?… So it is, when we, in anger hurt another person, not understanding we are all connected. (Etz Chayim Torah and Commentary p. 697)

Emor 23:29 – “You shall practice self-denial, and you shall bring a gift to the Lord…” 

  • Commonly understood as fasting, v’ee’nee’tem et nafshotaychem, more precisely, means practicing self-denial or better; self-control. To be human, fully human, is to have control over one’s baser impulses. Rather than seeingv’ee’nee’tem et nafshotaychem as to punish oneself (fasting as self-flagellation), we can understood the mitzvah as an effort to draw closer to God by leaving the animal part of ourselves aside. Godliness is about controlling ourselves. The animalistic side of ourselves seeks to control others.

Behar 25:10 – “You shall proclaim release throughout the land for all its inhabitants…”

  • Harold Kushner in the Etz Chayim Torah and Commentary offers the following insight into this verse from P’nai Yehoshua. “The jubilee year brings freedom not only to slaves but also to the slave owners, freeing them from the dehumanizing situation of having such power over other human beings.” An abuser asserts dominance over his/her victim attempting to degrade and demean the other person. Our verse reminds us that the abuser is also demeaning and degrading him/herself.

Bechukotai 27:14 – “If anyone consecrates his house to the Lord…” 

  • Far from seeing “your home as your castle”, Jewish tradition sees one’s home as place to practice holiness in word as in deed. According to Menahem Mendl of Kotzk, “True holiness sanctifies the seemingly mundane activities of running a household. One who behaves in a elevated manner in one’s own house is truly a holy person.”