The overwhelming correspondence I received in
response to my last two articles (The
Destruction and Restoration of Dignity, Comfort
My People) reflected the most compelling questions of
“What can we do to protect our children from different
forms of abuse?”
“And what do we do once our children have been hurt? How
can we help them heal from their wounds?”
These are not questions confined to parents. All of us
adults were once children. We are and always will be, as
they say, our parents’ sons and daughters. And we
all know in our hearts the impressions, memories and traumas
that have shaped our psyches from the youngest age and affect
us and our attitudes in every aspect of our lives. Who can
estimate how many our problems stem from our childhood experiences?
We all then have the same question: Can we heal from our
Though these are enduring questions all year round, the
current period of the year – the second of the “seven
weeks of comfort,” following the “three weeks
of affliction” – carries special power to help
us heal from our wounds.
During the “three weeks” we read the Haftorah’s that describe
the destruction. Then we move into the “seven weeks” whose
Haftorah’s guide us in the process of rebuilding.
Accordingly, this column has focused, in the past two weeks,
on some of the wounds that plague our generation, particularly
due to drug and sexual abuse, and how we can begin to gain
some measure of comfort and healing.
* * *
When you read these Haftorah readings one outstanding emphasis
that jumps out at you is the abandonment and pain of our
Take this week’s reading: It is essentially the story of
children abandoned by their parents. But in their absence
the children grow in most surprising and expansive ways.
The prophet begins with the sad words: But Zion said:
“G-d has forsaken me; my G-d has forgotten me” (Isaiah
The cry of every abused child, of every broken heart –
how can you leave me here alone, vulnerable to the monsters
At first the hurt child hopes and expects that his parent
will come to his rescue. But after a while, the child sadly
gives up, and blames herself. After years of waiting for
salvation, the child tragically believes that she has been
utterly abandoned, with no indication of hope and salvation.
After sustained abuse, protracted feelings of loneliness
the child feels that he has been forsaken, abandoned and
utterly rejected: G-d has forsaken me; my G-d has forgotten
To this, G-d responds and informs the child that he is
gravely mistaken: Can a woman ever forget her
nursing child; cease to have compassion on the son of her
womb?! Yes, they may forget; yet I will not forget you!
Perhaps the most troubling mystery of life: How is it possible
that a mother or father can forget their own child? How
can they possibly become so consumed with their own needs
(or perceived needs) to the extent that they can neglect
the fruit of their womb? Yet, we see it all the time. No
animal in the universe is capable of such utter narcissism.
How can humans stoop to such cruelty?!…
Yet they do. And when they do, lives are left shattered
in their wake. Forever changed. And we children are left
to pick up the broken pieces.
But G-d says: Yes, they may forget; yet I will not forget
you. Even when forgotten by those that should be protecting
us, G-d does not forget.
Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands;
your walls are continually before Me.
G-d tells His children that, in reality, you remain My
constant focus every single moment. Moreover, your boundaries
(walls) remain continually intact – even when they
may have been breached by one form of abuse or another.
Your children hurry; your destroyers and those who laid
you waste will depart from you.
This has a two-edged meaning: Abuse causes children to
run for cover, to escape and hide. People who have been
deeply hurt find it difficult to be at peace, to trust and
commit. Your children hurry. In their insecurity
they are always are on the move; always leave a back door
open; always ready to flee from danger.
Your destroyers and those who laid you waste will emerge
from you. One of the most damning declarations of all:
The greatest devastation is perpetrated by the people closest
to us – from within our midst.
On the other, healing, side of the coin this verse also
means that wounded children learn to hurry and never be
complacent. Their suffering has taught them, in the hardest
possible way, that we should never take our gifts for granted.
Your children hurry – their lives have a sense of
Your destroyers and those who laid you waste will depart
from you. You are promised that your abusers will leave
you and cannot control your destiny. But it will take your
hard effort to ensure that the “destroyers”
do not hold your psyche hostage.
Lift up your eyes round about, and see: They all gather
together to come to you. As I live, says G-d, you will surely
adorn yourself with them like an ornament, and bind yourself
with them like a bride. Then your waste and your
desolate places and your devastated land will be too narrow
for the inhabitants, and those who swallowed you up will
be far away. The children that were born in exile will again
say in your ears: 'The place is too narrow for us; make
room for us to dwell in.'
Therein lays the ultimate transformative power of healing.
In the bigger cosmic picture it is unacceptable to simply
“get out of the line of fire” of those who have
tried to destroy us; true healing is about transforming
our liabilities into strengths; to become stronger in the
In the mysterious cycle of suffering and growth –
without justifying any form of pain – the fact is
that the profound refinement, the nobility, aplomb and unfathomable
strength that can come out of sorrow and loss is of a completely
higher quality – incomparable to any virtue that comes
without anguish. Whether we understand it or not, the most
powerful light comes of our darkness, the mightiest energy
is generated through resistance.
Your greatest enemy is, of course, yourself. Which is the
ultimate meaning in the verse: Your destroyers and those
who laid you waste will emerge from you. Even when we
have been victimized by another, even if the crime was perpetrated
when we were vulnerable and innocent, with no power to resist,
we all have built-in Divine immune/healing systems to overcome
any challenge. Ultimately we will have the choice whether
we will remain victims and be haunted by our pasts, or we
will access deeper resources and break our shackles.
The Haftorah teaches us that the secret to achieving true
freedom from our pasts is by lifting our eyes to a loftier
place: Lift up your eyes round about, and see: They all
gather together to come to you.
Through hard work and determination you can discover how
your pain can propel you to expand your horizons. Your sorrow
can access enormous reservoirs of strength and creativity,
adorning you like an ornament. Your hurried sense
of urgency – spawned by your waste and your desolate
places – will not allow you to conform to the status
quo. If you allow it, your restlessness will make you feel
that this place is too narrow, allowing you to dream,
aspire and give birth to unprecedented creative heights,
broaden our boundaries to expand far beyond the narrow straits
of conventional life, making room for us to dwell in.
And appreciate the healing you have achieved:
Then you will say in your heart: 'Who has given me these?
I had lost my children, and was childless, exiled, and wandering
to and fro. Who has brought these up? Behold, I was left
alone; from where have these come?'
This is what G-d says: Behold, I will lift up My hand
to the nations, and raise My standard to the peoples, and
they will bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters
will be carried on their shoulders. Kings will be your foster
fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. They will
bow down to you with their faces to the ground, and lick
the dust of your feet; and you will know that I am G-d.
For those who wait for Me will not be ashamed. Shall the
prey be taken from the mighty, or the captives of the victors
But this is what God says: Even the captives of the
mighty will be free, and the prey of the tyrant rescued;
for I will save your children.
When mortals hurt mortals, the only path to salvation is
to reach to the immortal.
* * *
As powerful as this message may be; with all the hope and
confidence we gain from knowing that G-d protects abandoned
children – the big question looms: What does this
teach us about our responsibilities to our
Yes, it’s nice to hear that G-d protects us even when our
loved ones do not. But what do we learn from this?
Some may even tragically use this Haftorah as a way to
minimize the effect of abuse and cop-out from our own responsibilities,
by just relying on G-d to protect our children.
However, with a little thought and sensitivity, it is clear
that this Haftorah provides us with many vital lessons.
Above all, we are instructed to follow G-d’s ways,
“just as He is compassionate so too shall you be compassionate.”
This week’s Haftorah reading teaches us the grave
responsibility we, parents and adults, carry to emulate
We must ensure that no child should ever cry out: G-d
has forsaken me; my G-d has forgotten me.
We must live up to our mandate: Can a woman ever forget
her nursing child; cease to have compassion on the
son of her womb?!
Just as G-d does not forget the child, we too must never
allow a situation in which G-d says: They may forget;
yet I will not forget you…
David Caar – the junkie-turned-acclaimed-NY-Times-journalist
– confesses his own greatest sin in his new scathing book,
The Night of the Gun. In one of the rawest self-condemnations
I have ever read, Caar writes about a heart-sickening trip
he took to a dope house with his baby twins, who he left
in a cold car as he went in to get his fix.
I certainly couldn’t bring the twins in. Even in the
gang I ran with, coming through the doors of the dope house
swinging two occupied baby buckets was not done. Sitting
there in the gloom of the front seat, the car making settling
noises against the chill, I decided that my teeny twin girls
would be safe, that God would look after them while I did
I got out, locked the door and walked away. Inside,
a transformation — almost a kidnapping — got
under way. The guilty father was replaced by a junkie, no
different from the others sitting there. Time passed, one
thing begot another and eventually I was thrown clear.
Leaving, I remember that. Out the metal door and then
out the front door with its three bolts onto the porch and
the hollow sound of my boots on the wood floor. A pause.
How long had it been, really? Hours, not minutes. I walked
toward the darkened car with drugs in my pocket and a cold
dread in all corners of my being.
I cracked the front door, reached around, unlocked the
back and leaned in.
I could see their breath.
God had looked after the twins, and by proxy me, but
I realized at that moment that I was in the midst of a transgression
He could not easily forgive. I made a decision never to
be that man again.
As we read this week’s Haftorah, we are reminded about
our greatest responsibility in all of life:
Protect your children.
Comfort you children.
What better way to honor these seven weeks of comfort than
by bringing to the fore the question that we must all ask
of ourselves and each other: Are we doing our best in bringing
comfort to our sons and daughters? What more can we do?
Time has come that we once and for all declare: We will
do everything in our power to not abandon our children.
To protect them with our very last ounce of energy –
to ensure that they can enter their adult lives unscathed
by the wounds of abuse.
G-d can and surely protects innocent children. But G-d
wants to work through us – His agents, created in
the Divine Image, emulating His compassionate ways.
I have personally witnessed – as I am sure many of
you have – the never-ending agony of wounded children
turned adults. It is unbearable to watch. The thousands
of hours wasted on fighting fears, insecurities –
the haunting voices – and the loneliness. Oh, the
loneliness. The child’s utter isolation every time
his or her parent neglected him.
Do we need to wait for G-d to intervene and protect our
Some basic suggestions:
- Each day take some extra time to
spend with your child.
- Don’t ignore your children or take
them for granted. Every morning make sure your child recognizes
that you are aware of him or her.
- Even if you don’t have your own
children, we can each apply the same attitude to a nephew
or niece or a child of a friend.
- Find a child with special needs,
an orphan or anyone that can use some extra attention,
and volunteer your services.
- Don’t wait for trouble. Always
be sensitive and look out for any signs of a child’s discomfort,
and address them
- Maybe we can create a blog, Protect
Our Children, which offers more suggestions and provides
a forum for further discussion, addressing dilemmas and
- Turn this into a priority, excepting
the most from ourselves and our friends.
For G-d has comforted Zion. He has comforted all her
waste places, and has made her wilderness like Eden, and
her desert like G-d's garden. Joy and gladness will be found
there, thanksgiving, and the voice of song.
The voice of song.
Our children are our most precious commodity. Our voice
Parents, educators, anyone who cares – wake up! Our
children are at stake. Our future is at stake. Is that not
more important than our own petty comfort zones?
Next week: Child Abuse – What Can we Do to Prevent