A Time to Heal
Essays 2020 / Finalists / Winning Essays
*Please note: If you are someone with a history of trauma, please be mindful that this essay will be discussing abuse.
We do not understand suffering.
We cannot justify suffering. The justification of suffering is often crueler than the suffering itself.
In this essay we will be presenting a paradigm; a possible way of conceptualizing pain and suffering, in tandem with the belief in a perfect G-d. We will spell out a metaphysical framework that one can choose to employ to move forward with one’s pain and practical steps towards embodying this approach. The Chassidic concept which serves as the grounding metaphysic of this essay is the foundational conflict between G-d as transcendent and unchanging and G-d as manifest in the gritty sands of time and pathos and the goal of the synthesis of these two divine modes.
Tonight marks the shloshim, exactly a month, since two Chabad cousins, Hani Solish (aged 19) and Sarah Klapman (24) jumped off the tallest building in Givat Shaul, Jerusalem. They were found the next morning by MDA paramedics. By then it was too late.
According to Israeli News Channel 12, a relative who had sexually abused one of the girls had been arrested, convicted and sentenced to serve prison time, and was released on parole ten years ago. The young girl who had been sexually abused had sought therapy but stopped going due to family pressure. She left behind a suicide letter which spoke of how she feared disappointing and letting down her parents.
Dear Hani and Sarah, here is my letter to you and to our community. It was we, as a community, who let you down. In our blindness and silence, in our inability, as a community and family, to address this fatal epidemic. In our silence, our children, our youngest and most vulnerable, were left exposed to the hands of predators, effectively sick, slow murderers. A slow murder perpetrated in silence, in the depths on an innocent soul, again and again, a physical exploitaion, a spiritual death, a murder of innocence and a massacre of trust. Your blood is upon our hands.
We, one community and one family, feel the hurt together with the bottomless pain of the family of our two k’doshim, tinokos shelo chattu. The pain they experienced which led them to their early graves. We will never truly understand.
May their memory stand as a wake up call to us, and in our heeding their silenced voices, may they be a blessing for countless innocent children, boys and girls. Through our actions, may their neshamos, their souls, continue to shine a light forward towards a brighter, safer future for every child.
We, as a family, as a community, must vow to never let the unthinkable happen again. We cannot stand by silently while our children jump off rooftops, tormented by demons that we could have thwarted if only we had the courage to speak up. With G-d’s help and with a zero tolerance policy for abuse and with unwavering, unconditional support for those who have suffered abuse, may this letter, as difficult as it is to write and read, join the effort to stop another suicide letter from ever being written.
Can Chassidus guide us?
Life is messy; life is complex; life is beautiful and painful.
G-d provided a manual – namely the Torah – to this messy existence, to guide us in the art of living, to make each of us consummate life-ologists. We who believe that Torah is complete, perfect and eternally beautiful, believe that there are no corners of life, no aspects of existence, that are too ugly, messy, painful, or perverse to fall within the guiding light of Torah. Chassidus amplifies this light and reveals her pleasant, G-dly path for each of us to follow. Let us shine this light on this painful subject, which we are obligated to address and face as individuals and as a community. May G-d guide us through this difficult chapter together.
The subject that we are going to discuss is of paramount importance and the stakes involved are nothing short of life and death. The purpose of this essay is only to open a conversation and explore a possible paradigm of approaching the issue from the perspective of Chassidus. Anyone who is suffering, in any way, should please seek out professional help from reputable, qualified individuals who have undertaken years of study and practice in the field. There is no shame in reaching out for help, on the contrary it is a sign of strength ought to be respected.
We are all in this together. No abuse happens in isolation; we are all responsible, and no one should suffer alone. We are here for you, and thankfully many in the community are standing up to be counted amongst those who say we are here for you, you are not alone.
The issue of abuse, be it sexual, physical, emotional, domestic, or any other, is the question at hand. The question we pose is, what guidance does Chassidus share for individuals who have experienced the horrors of abuse? How are they to perceive themselves after being subjected to abuse? How can they relate to their worst of experiences? Is there a way of healing and moving forward with the help of Chassidus?
There are two truths, teaches Chassidus.
Truth number one: G-d is one, there is nothing but G-d, all is G-d and that truth can be felt and experienced inside of you. You are divine essence, you are pure, untaintable, stainless, beautiful, free, loving, powerful, creative, invincible, eternal, inalienable, untouchable, as G-d.
This truth, this paradigm, is truly beyond human understanding. We can only suffice with the words of the holy Zohar: “leis machshava t’fisa bei klal, aval nitfas ihu b’reusa d’liba” – although this truth (of our unity with G-d) cannot be understood, for it transcends the limits of the mind, it can be grasped by the heart, for the heart has no limit.
Despite this eternal and absolute truth, this fundamental reality, there is a second truth which stands in tension with truth number one. It is its antagonist, rival and dance partner.
Truth number two: There is pain, there is hurt. There are experiences and there are memories which tear us apart and may make us feel like life is no longer worth living. There is darkness which is so thick, nearly impossible to see through, which allows no light at the end of the tunnel to shine through. Human experience is reflected in the divine reality, G-d is in exile, G-d’s home is in ruins and shambles, G-d is constricted, expelled, persecuted, starved, tortured, burnt, inquisited, rounded up and exterminated, denied and rejected. G-d experiences that pain, don’t you? The pain is real, it cannot be denied. To not feel it would be inhuman and ungodly. (Numbness is a feeling too).
From these two truths emerge a tension, a paradox, an existential struggle, a path paved by Chassidus for the hurting soul to traverse.
Chassidus provides three steady steps when facing the darkest demons of our psyche.
Step one: Acknowledge that you are not damaged, you are not a victim, you are not sullied. Although hard to see from our ordinary, terrestrial point of view, the most essential you is an unscuffable diamond, pristine waters, unchartable terrain. There is only G-d. G-d, and therefore you, ride beyond time, deeper than circumstance, closer than space. This revolutionary shift of perspective may prove to be the most comforting thought possible. The knowledge that you are truly divine, infinite and untouchable, gives the psychological wherewithal to stand a cubit above life’s traumas. Pause for a moment, breathe, feel that truth, that transcendent and immanent experience inside of you.
Step two: To deny the pain of reality, to not allow oneself to feel, only pushes it further down into the dark recesses of the self, coiled to erupt at precisely the moment when the wreckage will be hardest to handle. At your own pace, in your own safe space, and preferably under professional guidance, breathe slowly and allow yourself to feel that pain. G-d is there with you. It’s okay and important to feel. It’s okay to cry. We are here for you, our shoulder is yours.
Step three: (This step may take years and that’s okay. We will be here for you as long as you need). We accept the contradictory truths and acknowledge that we, insofar as we are G-d, are untouched by the travails of time and the excruciations of experience. Yet, as G-d chooses to manifest G-d’self in this reality, we can and must find the space inside ourselves to feel pain. Only then can we look back at our experiences and see the pain as subjective and allow it to melt away in the warm presence of the first truth shining gently upon it, with the belief, as therapeutic as hard to swallow, that everything that ever happened, ever, was part of the Divine process. Although we may never understand nor forgive the past, we have the capacity to be at peace with it.
“Once upon a time there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. ‘Such bad luck,’ they said sympathetically. ‘Maybe,’ the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. ‘How wonderful,’ the neighbors exclaimed. ‘Maybe,’ replied the old farmer.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. ‘Maybe,’ answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. ‘Maybe,’ said the farmer.”
That there is a ‘bigger picture’ in which the events of our lives find space is a potentially triggering thought. But this seems to be a truth, and one that has the potential to be deeply comforting. When few other avenues are left open, what are the options? As long as one feels pain and suffering, they are entitled and mandated to grieve, scream and let the real feeling of their pain express itself unconstrained. Hopefully, through that process of mourning and grieving, one can begin to release the pain.
Suffering can never be justified; at the end of days we will still ask G-d, how did you let your children, your very self, suffer? How much more so while in the experience of pain and suffering we do not let G-d off the hook, we demand in the strongest of terms for it to end and never repeat. G-d is accountable, tried and found guilty of the pain of existence and is not absolved until the last human has shed their final tear.
The dance of life is about finding the balance between these two truths. Sanity will be the mark of successfully holding both tenderly inside the cavities of our body and mind. By leaning too heavily into the first truth, we’re left with either unhealthy transcendence or, far worse; denial. If we lean too much into the second truth, we’re left with suppression and victimization and, at worst, suicide.
Theologically, metaphysically, psychologically and emotionally, the ultimate truth lies in the dance between these two truths.
According to Chassidus, the balance struck between two opposites, fire and water, dark and light, revelation and concealment, spark and husk, is the place where the Essence dwells. The reconciliation of opposites, the coincidentia oppositorum, the noseh hafachim, is the function of the Essence. In that space between exile and utopia, pain and transcendence, suffering and indifference, physicality of the world and the spirituality of heaven, between time and eternity, between the two truths lies true redemption, true life and a true dwelling for G-d, in world, in time, in the body, the messianic moment, the moment that was always here, all along, just waiting for us to open our eyes to her. Close your eyes, breathe, open your eyes and see the world afresh, see your garden, smell the roses, taste the air. Redemption is here. Moshiach is now.
Disclaimer. Consider the following list as suggestions and not commandments. No one can define or prescribe the unique process of healing that every individual takes. The forthcoming list of suggestions are not written by a mental health professional, so be sure to discuss any aspects that feel important to you with a trained professional who is aware of the nuances of your particular journey. If you feel that any of these suggestions are off-point, inaccurate or inappropriate for you, please freely ignore them.
Practically, what does opening one’s eyes to such a reality look like, individually and collectively?
For the Soul and Psyche
- Put an end to silencing and repressing abuse and emotions.
- Even though it may feel natural, don’t allow room in your narrative for guilt or shame.
- The place of forgiveness is a complicated question. But unquestionably, forgive yourself.
- Don’t allow your abuse to become your identity. Your true identity is Infinite.
- Cultivate a relationship with Hashem, particularly through prayer, either in Hebrew or your own language. G-d’s hand and heart are always open to you.
- We can be angry at the reality G-d created. Mourn and let G-d know your pain.
- Find one individual to help. Saving one is saving a world.
- Be the person you needed in your life when you were vulnerable.
- Find the balance of letting go while feeling empowered. Regaining autonomy is a process. Find autonomy in the dichotomy. Find it in positive things; not in controlling or hurting others or yourself, but in helping and healing, yourself and others.
- Let your past experiences galvanize you on your mission. Be empowered. Lead. Champion your cause and be a force for goodness. Create a ripple effect of goodness emanating from deep within.
For the Individual
- You are not responsible for what happened to you. You played no part in your abuse.
- You have been hurt and are entitled to help. Find your support; it takes a community, friends, family and a good therapist. Find a therapist who cares about you, someone with whom you feel safe.
- Be open to medication.
- Healing is a process, a winding journey, sometimes three steps back and one step forward. Be open to the process.
- Self care is paramount. Treat your body well; it’s your precious vehicle.
For our Community
- Confront abuse in the appropriate way, with a zero tolerance policy.
- Report abusers to the responsible authorities at hand and to the police. They have commited a crime and may still pose a threat to others. The Torah warns us not to stand by idly while the blood of our kin is spilt, “lo sa’amod al dam re’echa.” There is a moral, legal and halachik obligation and liability to report abusers, and one will have to answer to all three if they choose not to report abuse.
- If unsure about how to respond to a case of abuse, in the US call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline: 1-800-656-4673, or the National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-422-4453. In Israel the emergency hotline for victims of sexual assault: 026-730-002 to speak with a woman, or 025-328-000 to speak with a man. In whatever country you live there will be an abuse hotline and website, simply Google to find help.
- The stigma and confusion around sexuality in religious communities allows abuse to fester in the dark. As a matter of pikuach nefesh, child protection and sexual education must be taught in all Jewish schools, in a way that is befitting the value of our children and the values of our schools, “al taharas hakodesh”, with sanctity and dignity, removing vulnerability and minimizing the chances of sexual exploitation.
- For those who have experienced abuse, it is our obligation as a community to give them our unwavering support, to help and support them in seeking out justice and therapy. As a community, we have shown how capable we are in turning up and joining forces in support of countless worthy initiatives, championing the causes of the weak, hungry, poor, lonely, handicapped, downtrodden, neglected, the widow and the orphan, truly, “mi k’amcha Yisroel”. It is time to move past our collective shame and guilt and be there for our precious, wounded and hurting, brothers and sisters. As much as we are baishanim and are rightfully embarrassed by the presence of this epidemic in our community, we must stand up as askanim, rachmanim and gomlei chasadim for our own. We have the power, with G-d’s help, to make it end.
 These foundational Chassidic concepts are explored in depth in Tanya ch. 31, 37; Basi L’Gani תשי”א. For the amalgamation of G-d’s limitless and limitation see, Sicha parshas Bo, תשנ”ב and Mikeitz תשנ”א
 To be clear, our single source here is the Israeli news channels which covered the tragedy. We take no responsibility for the accuracy or veracity of the tragic facts as reported:
The Jerusalem Post, “Two Ultra-Orthodox Young Women Jump to Their Deaths in Jerusalem” Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman, January 23, 2020:
 Holy, innocent ones.
 Metzudot Tzion on Isaiah 51:4; Gur Aryeh, begining of parshat Bereshis quoting Rabbi David Kimchi; Zohar, sec. 3, 53b.
 Torah, being the wisdom of a G-d who is infinite, is likewise infinite. “As the Zohar writes [sec. 2, 90b], G-d and the Torah are entirely One. Meaning that Torah is the wisdom and will of the G-d… For G-d is the knower, the knowing and the known, as Maimonides writes.” Tanya, ch. 4;
Mishna Avot, 5:22: “בֶּן בַּג בַּג אוֹמֵר, הֲפֹךְ בָּהּ וַהֲפֹךְ בָּהּ”
 Tanya ch. 2; Likkutei Sichos, vol. 31, Sh’kalim, section 2; Sichas of Purim תשח”י.
(1958) and תשל”אa(1971): “א איד איז דער אויבערשטער”
 Sicha, 13 Tammuz (1972), Sicha 6, תשל”ב.
 Introduction to Tikkunei Zohar, “Patach Eliyahu’’ p. 17; Tikkunei Zohar p. 120b.
 Zohar sec. 3, p. 289b (Idra Zuta).
 Bablyonian Talmud, Megillah 29a.
 For a range of sources in Jewish literature on God’s self-contraction, limitation and banishment see, Rabbinic: Berachos 10a, Bereshis Rabba 12:4; Shemos Rabba 2:9; Shir HaShirim Rabba 3:15. Kabbalistic: Sefer HaBahir 1:1, Zohar I:15a, IlI:225a and 227b; Zohar Chadash 35c; Tikkunei Zohar 5 (19a), 57 (91b), and 70 (122b). Cordoverian: Shiur Komah, Machshava 40; Torah 13:22; Pardes Rimonim 4:10; 6:8; Elima Rabasi, Mayan 1: Tamar 1, 4–22. Lurianic: Eitz Chaim, Drush Igulim V’Yosher, Anaf 2; Sha’ar HaHakdamos, Hakdamah 4, p.14; Mevo Shearim 1, 1:1.
 Isaiah 63:9: “b’chol tzaroasam lo tzar”; Psalms 91:15: “imo anochi b’tzara”.
 Sicha, 13 Tammuz (1972), Sicha 6, תשל”ב.
 Loftus, E. F., Polonsky, S., & Fullilove, M. T. (1994). Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse: Remembering and Repressing. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 18 (1), 67–84.
 Likutei Sichos, vol. 33, pp. 255-6. Sefer Hasichos 5751, vol. 1, pp. 233-4.
 Sefer Hasichos 5751, Vol. 1, pp. 233-34.
 Molnar, B., Berkman, L., & Buka, S. (2001). Psychopathology, childhood sexual abuse and other childhood adversities: Relative links to subsequent suicidal behaviour in the US. Psychological Medicine, 31(6), 965-977; Briere, John,Runtz, Marsha Suicidal thoughts and behaviours in former sexual abuse victims, Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, Vol 18 (4), Oct 1986, 413-423; Burgess, Ann Wolbert, The Sexual Victimization of Adolescents, National Inst. of Mental Health (DHHS), Rockville, MD. National Center for the Control and Prevention of Rape; Finkelhor, David, “Child sexual abuse”. In E. Ullmann & Hilweg, W. (Eds)., Childhood and trauma: Separation, abuse and war (pgs. 101- 115). Aldershot, England: Ashgate Publishing, 1999.
 Vayikra 19:16.
 Because an abuser is halachically classified as a Rodef, a murderer, none of the considerations of Mesira, Lashon Hara, or Chilul Hashem apply (on the contrary jailing a Jewish abuser helps prevent Chilul Hashem), and one does not need permission from a Rav or a Beis Din to report even an alleged abuser directly to the authorities and the police. This is the halachik consensus of the leading halachik authorities; Rav Elyashiv Yeshurun, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the Badatz Beis Din of Jerusalem, the Beis Din Beth Joseph, NY, and the RCA, May 28, 2003 and April 27, 2010.
 Some web resources: