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Arise and Shine

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Where Abuse Meets Dignity

Arise, shine, for your light has arrived, and G-d’s glory has risen upon you. For, behold, darkness will cover the earth, and dense clouds the peoples; but G-d will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes round about, and see; they are all gathered together, and coming to you; your sons come from far, and your daughters are carried on the hip.

Who are these who fly like clouds, like doves flying to their cotes?

The sons of your oppressors will come bending to you, and all who despised you will bow down at your feet. They will call you, ‘The city of G-d, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.’ Though you were forsaken and hated, with no one passing through you, I will make you an eternal majesty, a joy of many generations.

Your sun will no longer set, nor will your moon wane. For G-d will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning will be ended. Your people will all be righteous; they will possess the land forever; the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified. The smallest will become a thousand, and the least a mighty nation; I, G-d, will hasten it in its time.

Isaiah 60:1-22 – 6th Haftorah of the 7 weeks of comfort

As a young child I recall myself scratching a rainy window, praying, crying, that my parents come home. That was the extent of “abandonment” I endured.

That’s why I was utterly shocked, to the point of disbelief, when I first heard about true child abuse.

The first, unnerving time was when one of my students shared with me how she was considered a bit crazy for climbing atop the refrigerator in her home. Or when that didn’t work, under the kitchen table. You see, she was trying to find a way to avoid her incestuous father… She would devise all types of schemes and ruses to avoid sleeping in her bedroom, lest she have to host another one of his nightly visits.

I find it too horrible to imagine a father deliberately exploiting his own child. G-d knows: We all have our temptations, some very difficult to control. We all have our ugly sides, the ones we would rather never expose, even to ourselves. But what twisted psyche would cause a parent to rape his child? It’s totally beyond the scope of any normal distortion.

And then, what was even worse – if that is possible – is the silent mother, ignoring the violation, the atrocity – going about her own merry way, smiling, acquiescing, creating the illusion of normalcy, whining “we are a normal family; no family is perfect,” insisting on “family gatherings” and taking “family pictures” – as if all was just fine and dandy, all the while that the little girl in hell was retreating deeper into a her inner shell, never to return quite the same.

And those Friday night dinners, when the violated child would run with tears from the table of her so-called father’s, oh-so-normal loving Kiddush – sobbing in bed, trying desperately to get someone’s attention, attempting to provoke a protest, only to get slapped yet again as her father would force all her siblings to sing Shabbos songs louder and louder, “come on let me hear your voices,” just in order to drown out her cries in the bedroom…

At first I did not want to believe such things possible. But the mounting evidence, the sincere cries of one adult after another, quickly shattered my “innocent” naiveté. And there I thought I was the savvy guy, understanding life’s tribulations, plumbing the depths of human darkness. Oh boy, was I in for a rude awakening: Until you don’t see the devastating effects of abuse, you have not seen darkness.

Yes, I studied and was aware – and even thought I had a feel – for the heavy shroud that conceals reality, what the Arizal calls the “mystery of the Tzimtzum,” that cosmic black hole, sometimes named the “first tzimtzum” or the “great tzimtzum,” which concealed the conscious presence of the Divine light, allowing for our independent consciousness to arise. I had learned and explored how this “concealment” is the root of existential loneliness, and of all injustice and abuse, feeding the illusions of our self-containment, allowing us to hurt one another and ourselves in the process.

But you don’t know what the “tzimtzum” is until you experience a holocaust – individually or collectively. Until you don’t see an adult trembling like a child when he or she revisits the profound shame and abandonment resulting from one form of abuse or another, you have not seen the “tzimtzum” in its “full glory.” And then, and only then, do you have the humble and sacred right to cry out and demand justice. To challenge G-d and implore of Him: Why?

For, behold, darkness will cover the earth, and dense clouds the peoples.

Darkness is not an intellectual process. It is a gut-wrenching, emotional cry that comes from the innermost depths of an anguished heart, trying, groping, gasping for some air.

“Why was I not loved?” “Did I not deserve love?” “What is the matter with me?”

Every night when the sun sets, how many little girls and boys shrivel up in fear?

For some of us a sunset is a beautiful sight. For many others it is a nightmare beginning to unfold.

Darkness covers the earth. But an even thicker cloud covers people’s perception. As dark as the tzimtzum may be, it doesn’t compare to the density we bring on when we feed into the concealment and amplify its distorted effects.

By no means is this limited to sexual abuse; there are tragically many forms of abuse – psychological, physical, verbal, even religious. Then there are other equally traumatizing experiences – like premature death of a parent, divorce and other jolting tragedies – that shatter the innocence and pure belief of a child’s seamless life.

And yet, the paradox is, that the same G-d we want to “blame” for our problems, is the source of our consolation and hope:

Despite the darkness covering the earth and its peoples, G-d will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you.

So —

Arise, shine, for your light has arrived, and G-d’s glory has risen upon you… Though you were forsaken and hated, with no one passing through you, I will make you an eternal majesty, a joy of many generations.

And despite the many dark nights that you children endured, your sun will no longer set, nor will your moon wane. For G-d will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning will be ended.

How is it possible that after enduring so much damage an injured psyche can bounce back?

Answers the prophet, with perhaps the most powerful statement that we will ever hear: Your people are all righteous; they will possess the land forever; the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, in which to take pride.

This is the source of the theme: Birth is G-d saying that you matter. Your very existence is testimony to your indispensability. You are G-d’s flower, the work of His hands – you have an essential contribution to make that no one else but you can fulfill. You and all you do matters now and forever.

No person can ever take that away from you, because no person ever gave it to you, not your parents, not your teachers, not your customers and not your employers.

Human indispensability is the core of human dignity. And this is the antidote – the cure that precedes the damages of abuse:

Of all abuses’ devastating effects the most damaging of all is the violation of human dignity, malchus (see The Destruction and Restoration of Dignity). Causing deep shame, abuse demoralizes the human spirit and strips a person of his G-d-given birthright – the sense of self-value and self-esteem.

Tells us the verse, that no matter how much abuse a person has endured, despite the darkness that consumes him, his inherent Divine dignity is never destroyed; it can only be forced to run for cover, but it can never be annihilated. Arise, shine, for your light has arrived, and G-d’s glory (kovod, malchus) has risen upon you. For, behold, darkness will cover the earth, and dense clouds the peoples; but G-d will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. {As a result} Your people are all righteous; the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, in which to take pride.

You are never negligible.

And thus – The smallest will become a thousand, and the least a mighty nation.

We may however think, “ok I may come out stronger as I discover my inner malchus, but I have lost so many years crying, retreating, not living up to my potential? How can that ever be retrieved? Will I ever realize the purpose of my life and make a contribution to the world, or will I be in a perpetual state of healing?” Some point out, that survivors often become so consumed with themselves, compensating for all the lost time when their identities were annihilated, that in the process of healing they have no time to think about anyone or anything else, let alone how to help others and the world around them.

Says the Haftorah:

Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes round about, and see; they are all gathered together, and coming to you; your sons come from far, and your daughters are carried on the hip. The sons of your oppressors will come bending to you, and all who despised you will bow down at your feet. They will call you, ‘The city of G-d, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.’

Your malchus dignity (rooted in G-d’s glory) will not just empower you individually, but will also allow you to influence your environment and society. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. The redemption of violated dignity is not merely its restoration; it can and must also affect the world around us.

However, for this to happen you must lift up your eyes round about, and see; they are all gathered together, and coming to you. An oppressed spirit is often weary, “just let me be, I have suffered enough; allow me now to just relax in comfort.” But the inner dignity of your soul is not silent; it does not allow you to just lick your wounds and wallow in self-pity:

Arise, shine, for your light has arrived.. G-d’s glory will be seen upon you.. Lift up your eyes round about, and see; they are all gathered together, and coming to you.

Your friends are waiting, your community is waiting, nations, kings and the world are all waiting for you to rise to the occasion and illuminate your surroundings with your unique light.

And what better time to begin than in the final days of the year 5776? As we prepare for the New Year and the new unprecedented energy/light that it will bring, now is the bets time to set our minds, align our hearts and mobilize our actions to begin new and perhaps revolutionary initiatives that will shine into the universe with our unique light.

Should we however slightly falter, we have the Divine promise: I, G-d, will hasten it in its time.

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19 Responses to “Arise and Shine”

  1. Shirelle Meer

    this is amazing. thank you so much

    October 23rd, 2008 at 12:55 pm

  2. Lisa

    Your thoughts are beautiful and inspiring and your writing brilliant, but I think you are staying too long with the theme of child abuse. Yes, we need to be aware of it and need to do everything in our power to protect our precious children from it … but I think this is starting to get very depressing. Please, I think youve said enough.

    August 26th, 2010 at 9:09 pm

  3. Conrad Adelman

    It would be nice if you changed the date from your original writing of this which brought tears to my eyes and feeling to my heart. As I was born in the year 5700, Im well aware that this will be the year 5772 not 5768.

    Your words are diamonds hidden in the detrius of dust.
    Thanks,
    Conrad

    August 26th, 2010 at 10:16 pm

  4. Conrad Adelman

    It would be nice if you changed the date from your original writing of this which brought tears to my eyes and feeling to my heart. As I was born in the year 5700, Im well aware that this will be the year 5772 not 5768.

    Your words are diamonds hidden in the detrius of dust.
    Thanks,
    Conrad

    August 26th, 2010 at 10:16 pm

  5. Marv Hershenson

    Rabbi: your most recent essay is beyond words. An incredible body of writing and your images are stuck in my mind. As a father of three and grandfather of 4, it is incomprehensible for me to fathom this atrocity of the human spirit. The idea is so repulsive that a parent could damage the damage the sensitive psyche of ones child. The idea that we, as parents, can sculpture trust and love or push these affections over the cliff. It is a fine line between sanity and insanity. The important thing is to be on guard in the most active manner to avoid this tragedy.

    August 26th, 2010 at 10:26 pm

  6. Miriam

    Yes, truly…losing the belief of ones potential through fear and devastation is a very real thing. How well you have said it.

    August 27th, 2010 at 12:42 am

  7. mordi

    Rabbi- you have taken on a very difficult subject and exposed it clearly. I think most Jewish sects sweep such topics under the carpet as if it does not occur within their circles. I am affiliated with an orthodox group. The rabbis look upon mental illness as a lack of belief in G-d. The party line goes : Hashem only gives us challenges that we can handle. Or that suicide is a sin. Tzitzit, tefillin and mezzuzahs are the antidotes for mental illness.

    I could go elsewhere but this synagogue is just around the corner from me. They are really out of touch. They likely know that i dont believe their stuff because i do not socialize with them. Its tough enough in my case to establish a form a sincere belief in Hashem.I am comforted by the fact that many Jews, and likely rabbis run hot and cold. They attend a big rally in Crown Heights to get pumped up, re-energized. Needless to say they get run down, spiritually and physically.
    Kudos to yo for taking on this sad issue that is a bit more prevalent than is known.

    August 27th, 2010 at 12:46 am

  8. tiferet

    really inspiring. this is mamash torah that gives us energy. wish it was also taught this way in schools.there might be a lot less abuse if it was…

    August 27th, 2010 at 12:48 am

  9. Adina

    Thank you Rabbi, this is a very timely article for me, full of inspiration which has created a motivating desire for me to act and move forward as I know and trust that Hashem has a plan for me in His Big Picture!…

    August 27th, 2010 at 2:53 am

  10. Liebe Schulman

    Rabbi Jacobson, you are doing wonders with your engagement of the horrors of sexual abuse. It is indeed very difficult for adult survivors of abuse to rectify the idea that G-d loves us and wants us to be close to Him, as a father should, with the fact that many of us suffered horrors at the hands of our own parents, teachers, and other supposed caretakers, when we were little and helpless and had no one to rescue us. Thank you.

    August 27th, 2010 at 3:01 am

  11. Adina

    It is by no chance that my birthday is in Elul, a reminder for me to take the time for retrospection and preparation for refinement…:) Thank you once again for such a wonderful, in depth article.

    August 27th, 2010 at 3:20 am

  12. happyminyan

    Wait, I cannot see what I am typing for the tears that welled up. Remind us of this promise for both the individual soul and the collective souls of all Israel.

    August 27th, 2010 at 3:43 am

  13. P

    Yes, perfect. I love this article and find very insightful and motivating.

    Keep in mind at times the abuse is perceived by a child but not necessarily abuse, but the same demoralizing impact may be felt by the child. At times due to poor parenting skills, lack of connection or a personality or abilities profile that does not fit the rest of the family which can lead to low morale or isolation.

    Not a problem really unless the parents have conforming standards, which is our drilled parenting style–conform with the status quo or success as defined by parents versus pursuing unique talents and soft skills of humanity and arts.

    August 27th, 2010 at 9:41 am

  14. mfirebrand1

    Thank you for a such wonderfull insite. God Bless

    August 27th, 2010 at 9:57 am

  15. Brooke

    As a survivor of childhood abuse, I believe a major shift happened for me when I accepted my past and my unique path. Certainly, Ive experienced horrors that I could never hope or perpetuate on others, and have struggled my entire life to find that simple dignity that so many seem to possess without effort. When you are treated as though you do not matter, you tend to internalize that, so its difficult to overcome. But once I stopped resisting the truth of my past, I found within myself a well of compassion for the suffering of others, a trait I may well not possess had it not been for my own suffering. Learning self-love is still challenging at times, but it is possible to arise and shine from the depths of the ashes of abuse, and to embrace the truth that the Source of all supports us all 100% through the most arduous of journeys, even though we frequently do not understand them. Perhaps this is the essence of Faith.

    August 27th, 2010 at 1:19 pm

  16. malky

    these are the thoughts (of the abused ones) that have been blocking my joy and preparations as i envision 5771. i am not alone … even as i feel (and have kept myself) alone. at least i am not alone! thank you.

    August 27th, 2010 at 1:26 pm

  17. levi rapoport

    its the end of 5770 not 5768

    August 27th, 2010 at 3:23 pm

  18. Yocheved Polonsky

    I hope that as a community it is time to rise up and open our eyes, reach out to each other to help and comfort.
    We need to create structures to support people going through these challenges. Thank you for giving us the sources to go forward and take steps toward healing.

    August 28th, 2010 at 9:26 pm

  19. Blair Jonas

    For the silent mother, ignoring the violation she of course was also a victim of abuse. Likely at the hands of her own father, and/or uncle, etc.

    Blair

    August 29th, 2010 at 12:46 am

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