Parasha Nitzavim-VaYelekh

The Hidden and RevealedThis week, every time I turn on the television or open a newspaper, or read online,  I hear  about  – the   crisis in the National Football League. Now, , as many of you know, I am a NFL fan, although the Bears are only my second favorite team – And after last Sunday it looks as I’ve got myself a team I can now root for this season, at least …. Many of you also know that my sons and I have a family tradition of attending a NY Giants Football game once a year at Met Life Stadium. We already have a game picked out for this year. But I have to tell you, I am having second thoughts about going this year. Like millions  of people in this country,  I watched the sickening  and horrific video of Ray Rice punching his then girlfriend in that elevator. I had tears in my eyes as I heard of the abuse that Adrian Peterson meted  out to his four year old son.  After he was reported to the Department of Children and Families and suspended from his team he had the audacity to say, “I am no child abuser”! We read in our Torah portion this week "The hidden concern the Lord our God; but the revealed, are for us and our children ever to apply all the provisions of this Teaching." These words have attracted much  attention by the Rabbis, but two interpretations are relevant for us this evening. The Targum, the Aramaic translation and interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, says this means that G-d will punish wrongdoings committed in secret, that society cannot know about  and for which society cannot be held responsible. But for misdeeds that become known to us, it is the community’s obligation to face them and deal with the perpetrators. Other rabbis add that the “hidden” referred to in the verse refer to misdeeds that are concealed from the perpetrator themselves. They do not even realize they are doing  something wrong! Apparently that is the case with Adrian Peterson. “I am no child abuser”, he claims.    He says loves his son loves his son – and I have no reason to doubt him – and so he doesn’t think that he can also be an abuser.  Neither does Peterson's mother,apparently, who defended him. Ray Rice – neither he nor his wife consider him a wife abuser. He probably loves her, but that does not mean he is not an abuser.  A lot of people are confused about this. They think that just because they love someone, they cannot possibly be abusers. As long as they are loved by someone, they cannot possibly be abused. Of course, this is not just an African-American problem, nor is it confined to the National Football  League. It is a problem in all communities, including the Jewish community. Domestic abuse can happen to anyone, at any time. It can occur in homes of any religious denomination, no matter what the socio-economic level of the family. It is not only physical abuse that we are talking about. Abuse can be  verbal, emotional, financial, sexual or psychological or any combination of these. Shlom Bayit – peace in the home – is a central tenet of Judaism. Yet in many homes, it remains an ideal, not a reality. Since it is such an ideal in the Jewish community, it can be very embarrassing to face that it is happening in one’s own home.  Many Jewish people believe that this is not a “Jewish problem” and they therefore they feel even more alone and ashamed. Many of us were raised with the idea that Jewish families are somehow “different” and therefore are immune to the problems that afflict other ethnic and religious groups in our society. So we don’t see it – when it occurs in our own homes, or when it occurs in the homes of our families and friends. Yet according to the Jewish Coalition Against  Domestic Abuse, the rate of domestic abuse in Jewish homes is about the same as it is in the general population – 15%. The “hidden” the Torah says, “concerns the Lord”. I am going to challenge that assumption tonight. Often things remain “hidden” because we don’t want to see them. Often things remain “hidden” that are right before our eyes, but we don’t know what we are looking at, so they are “hidden” to us. So, often, what is “hidden” does concern us. We can help uncover what is hidden and make a difference in a person’s life. First, we need, all of us, to understand that abuse happens in childhood, in adolescence, to young adults on college campuses all over the United States, it happens to people who are dating, to newlyweds, friends, and people who have been married many, many years. Domestic abuse is a systematic pattern of coercive behavior for the sole purpose of controlling and dominating the other by manipulating them, often loved ones, into doing things they do not want to do.  It also often involves using ones power over another to force the other to give way. As I said, domestic abuse can take many forms: verbal, emotional, financial, sexual, physical or psychological. Although 95% of abuse victims are women, men can also be victims of abuse.       After we understand what abuse is, we need to be aware of the warning signs of abuse . Do we have a friend who apologizes and makes excuses for a partner's behavior? Cancels or changes plans often?  Calls and/or texts their partner to an extreme? Acts fearful of upsetting or angering a partner? Has dramatic changes   in weight, appearance, or grades? Has unexplained injuries? Gives up hobbies or time with friends and family?  Seems to lose confidence in themselves?  Has difficulty making decisions? Frequently these might be signs of some form of abuse.                                                                                             When we suspect that someone we care about is in a abusive relationship it’s important not to judge them. We need to express our concern respectfully.  Acknowledge our friend’s feelings – we should not tell  them how they” should” feel. We should not put their partner down, or pressure them to leave their partner. Tell them you are concerned, about their safety. Remind them that the abuse is not their fault.  Offer to help them seek a professional they can talk to about the relationship.                                                                                                              In the Chicago area, there is an agency that offers free, confidential domestic abuse counseling  services to members of the Jewish community. It is called “Shalva”, which means “peace” in Hebrew. It   is yet another agency supported by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Chicago. Since its founding in 1986, it has helped over 4000 Jewish individuals deal with issues of domestic abuse. There are   brochures in the lobby. Please take one home with you. It is a great resource. Things that are hidden are our concern as well. Sometimes all it takes is for us to open our eyes  to see them. Shabbat Shalom.