On October 27th, 1988, the Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica Hospital launched Stuart House, a child abuse treatment program. It was the first in the world that had medical, police and child protective services under the same roof. It was a "one-stop center" where children were and still are given immediate assistance.
Chuck and I were at the opening of the center. It was a hopeful and heart wrenching day all at once. Chuck worked for many years as a volunteer physician, and I worked for fifteen years as a volunteer in the waiting room, making rape victims feel a bit at ease before being seen by a professional.
Our Torah portion today reminds me the important laws that were already set so many thousands of years ago by our ancient ancestors to protect the vulnerable in our society. This Torah portion is particularly interesting because it refers to an amazing number of laws that are applied particularly to women, for example:
1) What shall be the status of the wife of a Hebrew debt slave (21:3-5)?
2) What is the status and rights of a daughter who was sold into slavery to pay off her family's debt (21:7-11)?
3) What would happen with one who, verbally or physically abuses his mother (21:15, 17)?
4) What are the rights of a Hebrew female slave, who is physically abused by her master, (21:20-21 & 26-27)?
5) Who takes responsibility in a fight when a pregnant woman gets hurt, has a miscarriage, and her un-born child dies, and she herself is in a life and death situation (21:22-25)?
6) What happens to an ox who gores a woman to death (21:28-32)?
7) What are the consequences of a man who lies with virgin, and who did not ask her father formally to get engaged with the girl (22:15-16)?
8) How to treat a sorceress (22:17)?
9) What are the upshots to our society if we fail to protect the vulnerable like the widow or the orphan, (22:21-23)?
There is a unifying promise to all these verses. God promises that if any of these vulnerable people will be mistreated and they would cry out to Him, "My anger shall blaze forth and I will put you to the sword (22:23)... I will pay heed, for I am compassionate,"(22:26).
Sadly, many of us are all too familiar with the epidemic of women and children's abuse. Women worldwide, suffer abusive relationships in silence that can be potentially fatal. Shocking statistics tell us that every nine seconds a woman is physically abused in the US. It is astounding that about one out of every four girls and one out of every eight boys are sexually abused before they reach eighteen years of age.
Our ancestors knew already that the vulnerable in our society, the poor, the widow and the orphan needed to be protected. They created these compassionate laws to shield the voiceless, to strengthen them and defend them. Do we hear their cries? Does our anger burn as a blaze? Can we pay heed by being an active supporter of various anti-violence legislation?
Let us in 2014 continue the work our ancestors started in our Torah portion this week. If you wish to volunteer you may contact http://therapefoundation.org/stuart-house, or, if you wish to donate some money contact http://www.every9seconds.com
May each of us never be complacent or take for granted the health and safety many of us enjoy. May we be able to fulfill a covenantal relationship not only with God, but also with the needy and deprived all around us. Amen.
This week’s parsha, BeShalach, chronicles the events immediately after the Israelites leave Egypt and go into the wilderness. In summary: Pharaoh has a change of heart and sets his armies out to kill or recapture the Israelites who become trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the Sea of Reeds. The Sea is split and allows the Israelites to pass through to safety while the Egyptians who give chase bog down in the mud and drown as the waters turn back. The Israelites break out into celebration with song and dance. While safe from Pharaoh, they enter the wilderness, the unknown, where danger lurks in the form of Amelek – pure evil.
A revolutionary wave of demonstrations swept across the world beginning in 2010 and continuing to this day. Many took the first steps into the unknown place on their way to freedom. Since then, rulers have been forced from power in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. Protests and civil uprisings took place in Bahrain, Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco and Syria - All these in the name of freedom.
As you read this, I am on the Thai/Burma border working with refugees from a civil war that has been raging since the end of WW2. I will be witness to the hopes, joys, pain and suffering of people living under oppression of biblical proportions. Week -by-week as I read about the exodus in Torah, about the Israelite struggle and their path to freedom, I am struck by the parallels and differences in today’s changing world. They have “pharaohs” who don’t want to let them go. They have “Amalek” , the unrestrained evil which thrives when there is no “Torah” – no rule of law. The liberation of a people is a brilliant display of God’s hand in the affairs of man. The initial wave of light is so bright the whole world can see it. It moves all of humanity to lift the fallen; and the fallen to stand with hope and purpose.
When the Israelites saw the miracles the Lord had performed for them they broke out in celebration. Miriam led the women in dance and song. We too celebrate - but with caution, as the hearts of the pharaohs of the modern world are hardened.
“The Lord stiffened the heart of Pharaoh”. (Shemot 14.8)
We learn from Torah that the light of the Lord is a shadow to the wicked. Despotic leaders, our modern Pharaohs, do not rejoice with the masses as they mark their moment in history with celebration. Their “chariots” and armies are not stopped by miracles.
“Amelek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim.” (Shemot 17.8)
Within Pharaoh is a shadow - a darkness in which evil can flourish. Amelek exists in the evil of opportunists who do their work in the dark, exploiting uncertain situations and preying upon the weak and the vulnerable. Evil and Amelek attack the weak and flourish in darkness. We, therefore, must bring our light, the light of freedom, the light of God to illuminate the shadows.
We can take an action today that will increase the light. We can let our voices be heard. Today, call your elected leaders and let them know that you support freedom for all peoples. We can also support organizations in our community that seek to provide comfort and healing to the victims. It is only when we take action that we become part of “the great miracle”. Take action now and join together to dance and sing in celebration! Call the White House at 202-456-1111 and ask the Obama administration to use its financial as well as global political resources to end to the atrocities being perpetrated on the ethnic minorities in Myanmar.
About Rabbi Miriam
Rabbi Miriam E. Hamrell MHL, M.Ed., has served as our religious and spiritual leader at Ahavat Torah Congregation and helped it grow since it was founded in 2003.