Vaetchanan: Comfort My People

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Dignity Revisited

After last week’s heart wrenching article, one of my friends writes: “OMG – what an absolutely depressing essay…… Wednesday night you were in such a good mood – what happened?”

Seeing a soul taken captive by drugs is sad indeed, as is witnessing a life wrecked by sexual abuse. But it’s not more depressing than Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the year, when the Holy Temples were destroyed and all human dignity was violated, changing the course of history…

I was quite overwhelmed by the outpour of responses to last weeks article, and even more so, by their tone. “Your essay brought many tears to my eyes, especially as someone close to me had their malchus destroyed…” “You depicted the story of my life…” “So relieving that someone is addressing these unspoken issues…” “This is so powerful for me that I for one am going to investigate the opportunities here in Boston for adult education in this arena…”

Most impressive of all was the profound empathy that so many of you, from very diverse perspectives, expressed about my “war-torn” friend Michael and his wasted life. Clearly, Michael’s story is far too prevalent – and effects far too many of us.

Due to the high volume of responses and my time limitations I will be unable to personally acknowledge every one of your letters. I would therefore like to use this opportunity to thank everyone for their heartfelt comments and especially for the different suggestions how to reach my childhood friend.

Many tears indeed can be shed for our children whose lives are prematurely “hijacked” by the demons of abuse and drugs; bright futures suddenly aborted; robbed of their possibilities; injured psyches. It’s one thing when an elder person, who has endured losses and pain, gets jaded. But when children – innocent young men and women – fall hostage to despair, there are few sadder sights.

Its’ not supposed to work that way. As life wear on there will be plenty of anguish and loss. But our children? Let them have their hopes and dreams. Let them be driven with enthusiasm and passion to change the world.

Medicine today has vanquished many of the plagues of old. But today we are living through a new plague: Our youth falling prey to predators and substances that take over their lives.

To ignore or deny this sad reality is in many ways worse than the crime itself. As survivors will tell you: “The silence was worse than the rape.”

We thus have the Nine Days, culminating with Tisha b’Av to acknowledge and honor the assault and devastation wreaked on our human dignity (malchus). As uncomfortable as it addressing this may be, not addressing it is worse.

Accordingly, last week’s Haftorah doesn’t mince words as it describes in no uncertain terms the damage humans can inflict on themselves and their children. The “vision of Isaiah” is brutal:

“Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth, for G-d has spoken: I nurtured and brought up children, but they rebelled against Me.”

“The ox knows his owner, and the ass its master’s crib; but Israel does not know; My people do not understand. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly… they are utterly estranged… The entire head is sick, and the entire heart faint. From head to foot there is nothing sound in it, only wounds, bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been pressed out, or bound up, or softened with oil.

“Your country is desolate; your cities burned with fire. Strangers plunder your land in your very presence; it is desolate, as if overthrown by floods. And Zion’s daughter is left like a hut in a vineyard, like a shack in a cucumber field, like a besieged city.”

Even the “committed” worshippers of G-d are mechanical and repulsive, masking the corruption within:

“Stop bringing meaningless offerings; they are offerings of abomination to Me. New Moon, Sabbath, and the Festivals – I cannot bear iniquity along with solemn assembly. When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you. Yes, even though you multiply your prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean. Remove the evil of your doings from before My eyes; stop doing evil. Learn to do good: seek justice, relieve the oppressed, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.

“How the faithful city has become a prostitute! She was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. Your princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves. Every one loves bribes, and chases after rewards. They do not defend the fatherless, nor do they take on the widow’s cause.”

Apply these words to our times and it you have a description of a society that is allowing its children to fall prey to the forces of corruption. Jerusalem – the “faithful city” – is a symbol of each one of us, it is the “malchus” (Kiryat melech rav) within the psyche; and its being ravaged represents the violation of our individual dignity. Each verse dissected depicts different psychological symptoms of abuse, to help us diagnose the problem (so that we can then apply the appropriate interventions).

But, thankfully, the story does not end here. After Tisha B’av, the Hebrew calendar moves forward like a spinning wheel, and in its powerful way, teaches us to align our lives to the cycle of healing from our previous wounds.

This Shabbos, following Tisha b’Av, is called Shabbas Nachamu, when we are comforted: “Comfort, comfort my people” – begins the Haftorah. Now we arrive at the point where we can repair and transform our fractured psyches.

And just as each verse in last week’s Haftorah (Chazon) helps us diagnose the problem, the verses in this week’s Haftorah reveal the methods to heal. And therein surely lies the answer to Michael and to the other “Michael’s” we know.

“Comfort my people, comfort them.”

When you see someone hurting be gentle, be sensitive – extend kindness. This is not a time for judgment or even analysis. Just be there for your friend.

“Speak to the heart of Jerusalem:” Not to the mind, but to the heart, the pure heart within the person in pain. Words from the heart enter the heart. Words from the mind enter one ear and exit out the other. In time of emotional anguish only speaking from and to the heart can work.

“Proclaim to her that her warfare is over:” Tell her soul that she no longer has to fight. Is she just wishes it, she can begin to let her guard down.

“Her iniquity is pardoned:” You are forgiven.

Stop blaming yourself. One of the tragic symptoms of childhood hurt and abuse is the tendency to blame yourself. Children of divorced parents, of feuding adults, blame themselves for the problems. Some say that this is because a child cannot tolerate the possibility that his/her parents – who are everything to the child – can be at fault. Left with no one else to blame, the child erroneously sees himself as the culprit. And this self-loathing and sense of inadequacy further erodes the child’s confidence. “You are pardoned” – we must tell the person. It’s not your fault. Don’t allow yourself to be invalidated. You have all the strength necessary to pick up the pieces and rebuild your life.

“For she has received from G-d’s hands double for all her sins:” For every fall, we receive double amount of strength to overcome the challenge.

“Listen, a voice calls in the wilderness: Prepare the way for G-d. Make straight in the desert a path for G-d:” Even in the throes of despair, lost deep in the wilderness, we all have a voice that call out from time to time, and perhaps more often than that if you allow it to speak and allow yourself to listen. In our darkest moments we can pave a way toward redemption. Because embedded within the shadows lays enormous potency.

“Every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill made low; the crooked will become level and rough places a plain:” Life is a cycle. Like a spinning wheel, even the dips in life are only a step away from the wheel’s ascent. And vice versa.

“And G-d’s glory will be revealed and all flesh will see it together; for G-d’s mouth has spoken:” Even – or perhaps only – our flesh, our hedonistic experiences of pleasure, even the most depraved, can lead us to seeing the deepest dimensions of the Divine Essence. As Chassidic teachings explain: The material, created “yesh” (the ego of the flesh) originates in the true “yesh” (the Essence of the Divine). One who has self-indulged and been consumed by addiction and other material obsessions, can channel and transform these passions into powerful forces of good.

“Listen! One says: ‘Shout!’ And he says: ‘What shall I shout?’ ‘Shout that mankind is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field; The grass withers, the flower fades beneath G-d’s breath; surely the people are like grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but G-d’s word will stand forever.’” Shout – yes, shout. Yell out from your very guts that not just hurt souls but all of us wither and fade. Only by connecting to the Higher Reality do we mortals gain access to the immortal.

“Like a shepherd He will feed his flock. He will gather the lambs in His arms, carry them in His bosom, gently leading those with young:” When you are vulnerable and allow yourself to be lifted, your Divine soul will carry you through the darkest times. The one set of footprints in the sand are those of G-d carrying you when you had no strength of your own to survive.

“Do you not know? Do you not hear? Have you not been told from the beginning? Haven’t you understood from the foundations of the earth?” – People living in their comfort zones can often not see the inner truths. They are trapped on the surface level of existence. When you have nothing, you have nothing to lose and only to gain. Suffering and upheaval reveals cracks in the veneer, allowing us a peek inside, into the foundations of existence. When all is dark – a new light can shine through. But we need to avoid being trapped in our despair. We need to attune our perception and cup our ears – and listen to the voice that goes back to the beginning of it all.

“Lift up your eyes on High, and see. Who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name through the greatness of His might, and the force of His power:” Those surrounded by material success, who see the functioning world around them, can be seduced and blinded by their own vision; they see nothing but themselves and their self-interests.  When everything around you is shrouded and you have nowhere to turn, except to your own self-destructive patterns, you have the unique opportunity – not being deluded by the follies of existence – to lift up your eyes on High and see the force that has put all in place.

And the Haftorah concludes:

“Not one is missing:” Your very survival, despite all that you have endured, is a testimony that someone is watching over you. Your only enemy is your own self-perception: If you feel you are lost, you will remain lost. If you feel that you are missing; not just to others, but to yourself: that you don’t recognize yourself – your own self-defeating attitude will not allow you to be found.

“Not one is missing:” If nothing else, just do not give up on yourself.

Life is tough. For some tougher than for others. Many battles have been waged; many scars endured. And there are more battles to come.

But today, rest your head on my shoulder.

Be comforted all you/us tortured souls. Be comforted.

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alex
13 years ago

I would appreciate an answer to the following question: knowing the value of positive acknowledgment, where in the Bible is it to be found? Without co-opting the answer, since the Bible is more than a book of laws (one doesnt expect to find validation in law books, just the rules), and it is about relationship as well (between God and the Israelites, between God and individuals), it would appear that anything positive promised by God in the Bible is at best conditional.

Malka
13 years ago

Dear Rabbi Jacobson,

I did not reply directly to you last week, after you wrote your essay about Destruction of Dignity. But it had a very powerful impact on me, and I forwarded it to a friend, with the following comments:
I think what he says about peoples loss of their malchut-inner dignity is so important. Even regarding non-addicts, I have met many many people who think so little of themselves, and have very low self-esteem. I believe that when someone finds his or her Self, or malchut, that is a kind of tikkun for his or her neshama. Baruch Hashem that I have the zchut to be on that Journey.

This weeks article is even more amazing, because instead of just shining a light on the pain and anguish of someones loss of malchut, you take ancient words and transform them into a derech, a path which can lead out of that pit of despair. I am very grateful that I have been blessed to be able to find my inner Light, which every neshama tehora has; and to continue on my journey of trying to be the best Malka that I can – which is what I think Hashem wants from each of us.

Tizke lmitzvot for all the healing and inspiration which you are shining on so many people out there.

Malka
Jerusalem

anonymous
13 years ago

I was in my world of despair.
Your words came me strength.
I will find my way thru despair.
And dive deeper into the wisdom of the torah.
So the nine days is not just of then.
But also of now.
We go in it
and we come out.
I pray those who go in it.
Find their way out.
The nature way.
The hard way
The right way
And not the artificial way of a false god.. leading iinto a false peace that grows insiduous.

I prayed for strength in this supposedly rough day.
A day of aloneness and silence.

and i got your wisdom.
And it teaches me
I pray the peace i get
i can somehow share it.
And i learn sometimes i need to be alone.
And think deeply.
And pour my heart out.
And know i am not alone.
And i am ok.
And i will get thru it.
And maybe i can help someone also get thru it.
Thru a mitzvah.
And somehow touch a heart or soul
as another s heart or soul reached out to touch me.
-K

anonymous
13 years ago

You caught my attention in a very deep and painful way.
I needed that email and your wisdom.

I am still rebuilding from Katrina.
I and still facing the trials of the world of being deaf..and belonging to no work for i am not a signer.
I am dealing with issues.
I do not do substance abuse.
My soul is free from it.
I see my challenges as ways for G-d to shape my soul.
But sometimes i feel my soul melted.
For i am drained.

I lost my little sister.
.. in May 2007.
She was a mere 45.
She had that substance abuse.
But it was in a more hidden obscure way.
Prescription drugs.
I thought she escaped them.
I thought she got better.
But eventually they siphoned her life away unexpectedly.

I thought i could sit back and be there to catch her.
I could not catch her.
It will haunt me all the days of my life.
I can not understand it.
Why her why anyone?
Is it manic depressive?
Is it loneliness?
Is it the soul having to go thru that tunnel for some reason and come out again to start over again?
I feel punished.

But i strangely find healing in your words.
She is not the only one.
But she is the only one that i know of .. who is close to me.

There was nothing i could do.
She did not do it around me.
I have to think it is destiny.
It was destined.
To teach us and to teach others.
I do not know what to do.
but i can not escape the pain.
I grow thru it and learn …. i can not control the world around me.
But i can control me.
I may not like what happens to me
But my magic is in the dust … that i dust myself off.
and keep on trekking, keep on trying… to do the best i can do.
To keep an eye open.
To make a difference.
and to think twice in this world of ours.

I am not sure of my clarity.
Her loss is a great deep pain to me.
She was a magnetic person when she was not in darkness.

Your words give me strange healings.
That there are things that i can not stop or prevent.

But it gives me strength for i know darkness well.
But i am lucky to know light.
And light follows darkness and darkness follows light.
And i am a survivor in this inperfect world of ours.
For it becomes perfect (or good is a better word)
When i realize these are challenges i grow thru.
and for some reason… my albatross.. my deafness..
That cause me loneliness, and pain.
Also gave me an insight that transcends sound.
Or spirituality.

Bless you rabbi.
You are a great teacher.
I hear you well.

-K

anonymous
13 years ago

Thanks to G-d for you!

Yechiel
13 years ago

Many thanks for this.

A couple of comments:
1. It is related that one year on Shabbat Nachamu, the Rabbi began his sermon by quoting the first pasuk of the Haftarah Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people. That afternoon, at tea time, a number of congregants turned up at his house for Seudah Shlishit. The Rabbi was puzzled, and one of the congregants said But Rabbi. You said Come for tea, come for tea, my people.
2. On a more serious note, the rashei Teivot of the initial words of the last pasuk of the Torah Seu marom eineichem spell Shema.

Regards from Leeds, England, and Shabbat Shalom.

Yechiel

devorah
13 years ago

I appreciated discussion, have had my problems with drugs…and can say that there is plenty of despair, but there is also what is called low threshhold for frustration. we are used to instannt gratification and when we cannot get it, we use drugs to numb the feelings. We live in a culture where feelings are altogether supposed to be avoided, and drugs and alcohol are the most efficient ways to do it. Stay cool, above feelings and vulnerability. I suspect the cultural elements added to some personal ones, low self esteem, the drugs are an instant boost, rather than the slow painful ascent of building self awareness and acceptance.