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Ki Teitzei: Time To Sing

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Sing Barren One

Sing, barren one, you who have not given birth. Break into a song, and cry aloud, you who have never been in labor; for the children of the abandoned are more numerous than the children of the married wife, says G-d.

Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed. Do not be confounded, for you will not be put to shame; you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.

For G-d called you as a wife abandoned and grieved in spirit. Can a wife of youth be rejected? says your G-d.

For a brief moment I forsook you, but I will gather you with great compassion. In an outburst of wrath, for a moment I hid My face from you; but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you, says G-d, your Redeemer.

This is like the waters of Noah to me: I swore that the waters of Noah would never again submerge the earth; similarly, I swore that I would not be angry with you and would not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart, and the hills may be removed; but My kindness will not depart from you, nor will My covenant of peace be withdrawn, says G-d, who has compassion on you.

Isaiah 54-1-10 – 5th Haftorah of the 7 weeks of comfort

My heart is hurting. My soul is singing.

Life is so strange. And paradoxical.

It’s now five weeks since I have been writing about one of the most painful of life’s tragedies – innocent children hurt by adults. I never intended to continue writing about child abuse. But I could not ignore the overwhelming emotional response evoked by my first article (The Destruction and Restoration of Dignity) about my wounded childhood friend Michael.

All my years of teaching and writing – communicating with people about personal and emotional issues – have taught me that we must listen, and listen closely to the anguished voices and the deep outcries of people in pain. We must always listen to the “kol yeled boche” – the cry of the child.

Of all man-made human atrocities, perhaps the most devastating and demoralizing is silence. Silence in face of abuse is not neutral; it is complicity.

So when I began reading the anguished e-mails elicited by my article describing the perpetual wounds of childhood trauma – one e-mail more heart wrenching than the other – there was no way that I was going to ignore these crying voices. I realized and continue to realize the deep grief of so many tormented souls; children whose lives were forever altered because of a self-indulgent, sick adult.

And then, once I applied myself to the issue, which is so “comfortable” to ignore, I could not stop writing. As much as can be said about this unspeakable topic seems never enough. Initially, I thought that it was hard to find a place where child abuse is discussed in the Torah; now, after studying these seven weeks of comforting Haftorahs, I came to realize that once you pay attention it’s hard to find a place where this issue is not mentioned: Virtually every Haftorah speaks about the wounded children, the abandoned sons and daughters.

This week we read: Sing, barren one, you who have not given birth. Break into a song, and cry aloud, you who have never been in labor; for the children of the abandoned are more numerous than the children of the married wife, says G-d.

Let us ponder this verse for a moment. Are we actually being told that the “barren one” has reason to sing more than the fertile one? And that the “the children of the abandoned” have an advantage over healthy children?

How sad: Abandoned children outnumber their healthy counterparts. Abuse is rampant, and yet we are told that this is reason for us to sing!

But that is exactly what the verse is telling us. Whether we understand it or (most likely) not, some mysterious metamorphosis occurs to the barren one and the children of the abandoned. And when we see it through, we celebrate.

Yet we cry and sing all at once. We cry for the loss. But we sing for the growth, and we sing for the fact that we ultimately are not abandoned; our abandonment is only for a brief moment, because the everlasting Divine kindness and compassion always remains with us.

Indeed, the barren and abandoned state revealed a deeper love and greater strengths. The fact that we remain standing after all that we have been through testifies to our invincibility.

It is an absolute miracle that a child is able to survive extreme abuse at the hands of people who were supposed to protect the child. And yet the child survives, and with work becomes someone far greater, far more refined than he or she may have been otherwise. Not that this is a consolation, but the harshest challenges in life bring out the deepest resources, ones we could never imagined to have existed. And yet… we cry; we cry for all the countless hours of loneliness and anguish. We cry for the sheer pain, regardless of the ultimate benefits. But as we cry, we also sing…

So, sing, barren one, you who have not given birth. Break into a song, and cry aloud.

Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed. Do not be confounded, for you will not be put to shame; you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.

Shame. Ahh the shame resulting from abuse. The shame that demoralizes and poisons our every move; the shame that breaks our spirit, as we lose our inner dignity and sense of self-worth.

Yet, even if we were shamed, you will forget the shame of your youth, as you discover that you have not been rejected.

For a brief moment I forsook you, but I will gather you with great compassion. In an outburst of wrath, for a moment I hid My face from you; but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you.

While reading and writing about this healing process, let us not forget that we are in the month of Elul: A month of love an compassion, when we have the power to rebuild after loss, as we learn from Moses who spent these days of Elul on Sinai beseeching G-d for resolution.

And yet, the sadness strikes me again. Here we are preparing for the High Holidays – awesome days that have the power to change our lives forever. Yet, how many people are aware of this fact? How many are looking forward to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as indispensable days, offering us the ability to realize our deepest aspirations and dreams?

Many today are disenchanted from the monotony of conventional Holiday services. Affiliated and traditional Jews often suffer from a mechanical, lip service, experience. Nevertheless, the paradox continues: Men and women regardless of background hunger for a meaningful High Holiday experience.

Much to cry about. But also much to sing about.

But then we read on and conclude this week’s reading:

For the mountains may depart, and the hills may be removed; but My kindness will not depart from you, nor will My covenant of peace be withdrawn, says G-d, who has compassion on you.

Despite the winds of assimilation and the forces of apathy, notwithstanding the spiritual quandaries and the decline of traditional commitment – the mountains may depart, and the hills may be removed but My kindness will not depart from you, and this kindness and compassion will reach the depths of our souls and awaken us.

Thus, even our spiritual frustration and our skeptical attitude is essentially the voice of our souls searching – desperately yearning for something better. What greater tribute to human dignity?

To give voice to this dilemma in search for solutions, some kindred spirits have created a Facebook group, appropriately titled High Holidays Unplugged. Please join us and together, let us embark on a journey – in search for the soul of the High Holidays, in search of our souls.

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12 Comments
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bracha levertov
10 years ago

It is comforting to strenghthen our faith that we can be the AGENT OF HASHEM in abolishing abuse. Mr.Dov Chiakin on his radio show referred us to a committee?or group forming a program to teach educators etc.

Ziporah
10 years ago

This quote from Isaiah was what I lived by as a child. My father was an alcoholic pedophile, my mother in her own world ignoring the facts before her, and we 6 children lived in terror. When I was 12 I turned to the Bible and Isaiah became my lifeblood, eventually leading me to leave xianity and convert to Judaism, where I found a TRUE home of loving, caring parents and siblings – worldwide! My natural siblings emerged bitter; I had Hashem with me every step of the way. It wasnt easy, but I had my Abba Adonai for strength and guidance. Thank you for repeating the very words Hashem originally gave me to survive by.

Esther Gold
10 years ago

Dear Rabbi Jacobson,
I just finished reading your article about singing and then went back to read about Michael. I also read all the comments about both articles to try to understand some of it. Rabbi Twerski wrote a similar story about a woman who hit rock bottom with drugs an,causing her to lose everything tangible and precious to her, including her possessions and family. She pulled herself up, created a new self and went beyond any potential that she could have imagined (education,new job, etc.).I pray that Michael finds his way back.
From my personal experience, I came from a loving family,traditional background,and positive thinking about others. We were (still are) strongly Jewish and encouraged to seek the path of choice for our future. Truth and honesty, and faith were the foundation we were raised with.
It has taken quite a while to realize that I have been in an emotionally abusive and destructive relationship for over 30 years. It was so subtle, that until my husband took over my tasks because nothing I did was good enough, I dont believe I was fully aware of it happening.Part of me thought I must be doing somthing wrong with me because I was the akeres habayis that was supposed to set the tone of the home,therefore, this must have been something I was doing wrong. I felt like I was being dragged into a deep abyss of depression and isolation, not being there for my children.
Between listening to your program, remembering the Rebbes brochos, and hearing an acquaintance with bigger baggage than me (disabled children,divorce) say life is Awesome! with such a heartfelt countenence that I KNEW I could survive against all odds.I found therapy, a shelter, and a renewed faith and outlook on life. Im going back to school and learning to stand on my own two feet. Soon I will be able to get a job and escape this marriage. Its not the way I thought I would grow, but G-d has His own curriculum for me.The Wed. night class this past week also has plenty of lessons about what used to be the unspeakable a d word. Its not something thats still bourne in silence. There is still a stigma, but a little step is still a step forward.
Thanks for the meaninful classes and articles that are so practical to life.I can sing again with joy and love in my heart and soul!Boruch HaShem!
Thanks for having this forum of expression. Its nice to unload my feelings.
May your fathers neshama have continued aliyahs from your work as well as that of the rest of your family.

Esther Gold
10 years ago

Dear Rabbi Jacobson,
I just finished reading your article about singing and then went back to read about Michael. I also read all the comments about both articles to try to understand some of it. Rabbi Twerski wrote a similar story about a woman who hit rock bottom with drugs an,causing her to lose everything tangible and precious to her, including her possessions and family. She pulled herself up, created a new self and went beyond any potential that she could have imagined (education,new job, etc.).I pray that Michael finds his way back.
From my personal experience, I came from a loving family,traditional background,and positive thinking about others. We were (still are) strongly Jewish and encouraged to seek the path of choice for our future. Truth and honesty, and faith were the foundation we were raised with.
It has taken quite a while to realize that I have been in an emotionally abusive and destructive relationship for over 30 years. It was so subtle, that until my husband took over my tasks because nothing I did was good enough, I dont believe I was fully aware of it happening.Part of me thought I must be doing somthing wrong with me because I was the akeres habayis that was supposed to set the tone of the home,therefore, this must have been something I was doing wrong. I felt like I was being dragged into a deep abyss of depression and isolation, not being there for my children.
Between listening to your program, remembering the Rebbes brochos, and hearing an acquaintance with bigger baggage than me (disabled children,divorce) say life is Awesome! with such a heartfelt countenence that I KNEW I could survive against all odds.I found therapy, a shelter, and a renewed faith and outlook on life. Im going back to school and learning to stand on my own two feet. Soon I will be able to get a job and escape this marriage. Its not the way I thought I would grow, but G-d has His own curriculum for me.The Wed. night class this past week also has plenty of lessons about what used to be the unspeakable a d word. Its not something thats still bourne in silence. There is still a stigma, but a little step is still a step forward.
Thanks for the meaninful classes and articles that are so practical to life.I can sing again with joy and love in my heart and soul!Boruch HaShem!
Thanks for having this forum of expression. Its nice to unload my feelings.
May your fathers neshama have continued aliyahs from your work as well as that of the rest of your family.

lakshmi
10 years ago

Taking what is not yours..what does not belong to you…taking.sexually, overpowering a being , bearing false witness..taking… Greed ..taking what does not belong to you…murdering taking a life that does not belong to you, suicide, taking your life that does not belong to you….drunk beings, living by their senses, forgetting .forgetting who they are connected to. Forgetting their divine source , their purpose, forgetting the love that created them, forgetting the meaning of creation.. forgetting the blessing of being given the opportunity to undo their karmas , their tikune in this life. They are the ones that are forever altered , until they get it right. life after life they come and they work it out until they get it right. The so called victims of abuse…of sexual abuse, physical abuse, greed,murder they evolve or have the chance to evolve to a greater height of knowing the true meaning of forgivness, justice, goodness,compassion that it is better to be a nail than a hammer. To know the power of their inner love that connection to God that imparts the power of love, the deeper mysteries..instead of the love of power which can subvert and cause the Fall of ones infinite possibilites after being given the blessing of life. The victim is not forever altered, Rabbi..The repettion of karma by the perpetrators is forever recycled.. These souls cry out..as the so called vicitms sing..shanti shanti shanti, oh sey shalom o sey shalom

10 years ago

usually your articles are very inspiring; i save them, or print them to read aloud at the shabbos table.
this article did not speak to me at all.

shira
10 years ago

As a survivor I can tell you the battle against Gd I have waged and/or tried to bury on and off for years has been more painful than having to exist in the same space on Shabbos, etc as the family member who stole my innocence forever. G-d allowed it to happen, He enabled it to happen, and He WILLED it to happen. He WILLED the pain and depression and suicidality and lack of control I had felt for years. He willed the torture inside my mind, the shame, etc.
And, believing in the afterlife, one of the scariest things is yielding to the fact that no matter where i go, Gd is there waiting. I cant escape Him. If Id successfully kill myself, my soul will suffer, not having become what I needed to become before death, having cut off my life without Gds permission. But what is left here in this world, id think, except pain to wallow in? The torture He put me through was intense.
But He also laid the path for healing with incredible finesse. A past therapists suggestion, a new mentor, an attempt…..and finally a therapeutic model that gave me hope, even just for days, at the beginning.
Every day is a miracle. I often catch myself breathing in the glorious air and thinking, wow, I really appreciate this life today. smell the vitality, the energy pumping thru every color in this yard. im alive. and i dont regret it.
The smiles and laughter Ive shared, the friends who have supported me through thick and thin, the gorgeous nature I have experienced, and the awareness I have that amaze people all the time.
I have an appreciation of life that is quite rare (in part because my lifes experiences have caused me maturity way beyond my years). And with that, and with the tremendous pain i have been through and have experienced so viscerally, and the loss of self for most of my life, the travails I am still going through- with all that, Gd has (without asking/offering) chosen me to be His agent to enlighten this world somehow. It confuses me so, but this world has so much majesty, I must return to humility and recognize I just dont understand. and thats ok. Im hurt and frustrated, thats ok. Im saddened by the pain other ppl experience and pained by their suffering…
But Im alive. My heart, it beats, it throbs, it is soft and sensitive. I have the power to change me and the power to change my world by virtue of my soft heart that can bleed for others and for change and for redemption. The healing process has afforded me to never again have a heart of stone. and that is 1 thing i actually AM grateful for.

So how do I relate to G-d now? Being able to pray the amidah prayer or any prayer at all comes and goes. But i talk with Gd all the time. I scream at times, I cry at others, and I laugh, and share my love and appreciation too.
I share my everything with Gd, cuz that is what He is. Like it or not, that IS my existence. My soul is just a small piece of a big world filled with Gd.
I pray that each and every one of you with pasts similar to mine find the path to healing that is right for you. and that He grant you the strength and the supports you need to KEEP encouraging you back onto the road of healing if/when things get frustrating, dark, and/or hopeless.
Be blessed.

Rishe Deitsch
10 years ago

Yasher Koach Rabbi Jacobson for your articles on child abuse. I too had a similar experience. After the Nshei Chabad Newsletter first published an article about child abuse in Sept 2006, the floor of responses shocked me. I knew we had to keep publishing on this subject despite the outcry against such articles by those who wished to keep this subject out of the limelight (I will never understand their reasons). Yasher koach GO GO GO!
Hinda Schryber, glad to see you wrote too. thank you for writing in the Nshei Chabad Newsletter and thank you for the magnificent life-saving work you do with abuse victims in Orlenefesh. Yasher koach to you and your husband Avraham.

Judith
10 years ago

You refer to adults who take advantage of children. Often the sexual abuse is perpetrated by teenagers: babysitters, cousins, uncles, counselors, even siblings. And I am led to believe that often these youngsters who sexually abuse others were themselves abused. So its not about self-indulgence or sickness but about tormented individuals.

Patricia Grossman
10 years ago

Like always, your pieces, Rabbi Jacobson are inspiring and written for our times.
Thank you so much.

hinda schryber
10 years ago

Thank you so much for writing this. It means a lot to me personally and also professionally.
I was severely abused as a child and have survived, and gone on to – as much as i could rebuild my life. I now run a psychiatric rehabilitation organisation and most of my clients ( 170 ) were abused.
i will use your words to help them heal.
Its s slow agonising process but it can be done, and we need remondidng almost daily of the words you ahve written.
These words will mean more to me than most stuff written about the chagim.
May you and your family be blessed.
Sincerely, Hinda Schryber

researchok
10 years ago

Silence is not simply complicity in the crime.

Silence enables the abuser. Societal silence on abuse is the enveloping anchor that drowns a community.