Rabbi Miriam's Blog
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.
Ahavat Torah of West Los Angeles
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.