Deuteronomy

Devarim 1:1 – “These are the words (devarim) that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan…” 

  • “Words” in Hebrew are devarimDevarim also means “things”. This double meaning of devarim reminds us that words have substance. Abusive words do damage that is lasting. Domestic abuse often is verbal abuse. Words that demean, words that debase are weapons in the arsenal of the abuser.

Va’etchanan 5:17 – “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

  • This commandment is worded differently in Hebrew than the ninth commandment is worded in Exodus (Ex. 20:13). Literally, this commandment means, “You shall not be a worthless witness against your neighbor.”Victims of domestic abuse are found in every congregation in our community. We must be worthy witnesses to their plight. Domestic abuse often happens behind closed doors but the tell tale signs are evident to those who know what to look for. We need to be those people who know what to look for.

Va’etchanan 6:4 – “Shema Yisrael…”

  • “Shema” means not only to hear but to “listen” and to “understand” and to “do”. Our Jewish community needs to listen when a victim of abuse speaks. All too often, we close our ears. We must listen deeply and patiently and providing them the support they need.

Eikev 7:26 – “Do not bring this abomination into your house…” 

  • The Jewish home is to be a place of sanctity. For our ancient ancestors, the outside world was filled with debased practices. Bringing an idol into the home meant the moral and spiritual corruption of that home. In our day, idols may not be gold and silver depictions of Baal and Astarte but the pursuit of the material. Power and envy must be barred from our homes lest we tear apart the very relationships we hold most dear.

Eikev 8:17 – “…and you shall say to yourselves, ‘My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me.’” 

  •  Financial control is often a devastating tool in the arsenal of the abuser. He manipulates the victim with constant threats that he will leave her destitute. The wealth is his and he can use it as a bludgeon.

Re’eh 15:7-8 – “…do not harden your heart and shut your hand to your needy kinsman. Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.” 

  • According to the Talmud, one who ignores the needy is like an idolater (BT Ket. 68a). Also, it is forbidden to insult the poor or accuse them of being undeserving. How easy it is for us to ignore the Jewish victims of domestic abuse. We say to ourselves, “this doesn’t happen in a Jewish household.”All too often, we look the other way because Jewish domestic abuse makes us uncomfortable.

Shofetim 21:8 – “…do not let guilt for the blood of the innocent remain among Your people Israel.” 

  • How many times have we watched the news and seen that a terrible murder (or murders) has resulted from a “domestic situation”? Domestic abuse often leads to the shedding of innocent blood. Our ancient ancestors felt compelled to perform an expiation ritual when a body was discovered and the assailant was unknown. “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done.” (Deut. 21:7) Can we truly say that “our eyes did not see it done”?

Ki Teitzei 21:14 – “…and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her…” 

  • This parasha mandates repeatedly that constraints be placed on the powerful in their treatment of the vulnerable, particularly in domestic situations. Whether it is the captive woman taken in war or the unloved wife or the wife accused of not being a virgin, the more powerful male is constrained by the laws of the Torah to treat her justly and within a legal process. Though the particular procedures trouble our 21 st century sensibilities, the general aim of the Torah is constrain the ability of the husband to abuse his spouse.

Ki Tavo 28:29 – “You shall grope at noon as a blind man gropes in dark…” 

  • Why does the Torah set this out as particularly horrible curse? Doesn’t the blind man grope about in the dark as he gropes about in the light? Yes, but in the light others can give him help whereas in the dark, he is completely alone. (BT Meg. 24b). When we fail to shine a light on domestic abuse, we curse the victims with darkness. She gropes around with no one to help her. She has been victimized twice.

Nitzavim 30:19 – “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life-if you and your offspring would live- by loving the Lord your God, heeding His commands, and holding fast to Him…”

  • All too often, we humans surrender our God given ability and right to choose. In situations of domestic abuse, the abuser and the abused must know they have choice. The abuser can choose to stop his/her abusive behavior and the abused can make the difficult choice to seek help and separate herself from the abuser.

Vayelech 31:6 – “Be strong and resolute, be not in fear or in dread of them for the Lord your God Himself marches with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.”

  • Reaching out for help requires strength and courage. Just as Moses reassures the people Israel that they will not be alone, God will be with them, so we must reassure the victims of domestic abuse they are not alone. Not only will God be with them, but we will be with them as well. Isolation is anally of the abuser!

Haazinu 32:48 – “Ascend these heights of Abarim to Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab facing Jericho, and view the land of Canaan, which I am giving the Israelites as their holding.”

  • Even though Moses will not enter the land of Israel personally, he will see it from a distance. He will glimpse what is possible for his children. Viewing the “Promised Land” seeing what is possible not only for her/himself but for his/her children is a necessary step in the journey of the abused to safety and a better life. The abused often can only see more wilderness ahead. With the help ofJCADA, the possibility of a brighter future is revealed.

V’Zot HaBerachah – Chazak Chazak V’nitchazek – “Be strong and be strengthened.”

  • The parting words we offer as we finish the Torah remind us that endings are always difficult. We are creatures of habit. Often we would prefer to remain in a situation, even a bad situation, rather than starting anew. Some wonder why a victim of abuse remains with an abuser. Though the reasons are complex, one reason is endings, even necessary endings, require great strength.