Monday, January 23, 2017

Lyza and Ruth

How can we tell the difference between emes and sheker?...
Allow me to introduce twin sisters,
Lyza and Ruth.
Lyza tells lies and Ruth tells the truth.
They look so alike, at times it's hard to tell
that one lives in heaven and the other in hell.
Lyza is afraid, she conceals her face,
shooting at Ruth from her hiding place.
She cannot discuss openly, cannot enter the light,
she is worried and anxious and filled with fright.
Introspection is hard because something is wrong,
inside her is a monstrous, anxious storm.
Lyza intimidates Ruth, tries to make her step back,
she shames her and blames her and confuses the facts.
Lyza lies to survive, cannot look Ruth in the face.
She will make any excuse to change the date and place.
She will avoid and confuse, blame and cause conflict,
rage and rationalize and deny her own tricks.
Lyza is in pain.
Ruth is very different.
Ruth is not afraid, Ruth doesn't hide.
Ruth knows she is up against Lyza's complex lies.
Ruth is strong and doesn't give in.
She is clear and powerful and in the end will win.
Ruth is not afraid to look at at her own face
and take responsibility for her mistakes.
Ruth knows what she knows and knows what she doesn't,
and doesn't pretend to know things she can't
( like other"s intentions, for example).
Ruth is open to hearing more information
and changing her perspective based on that knowledge.
Ruth is not going anywhere. She feels happy and safe
and wants everyone to join her in this wonderful place.
Ruth is filled with love and acceptance,
even for Lyza
who tries to control her perspective.
(Ruth understands and accepts Lyza's role.)
Inside us we all have a Lyza and Ruth.
Lyza lies to survive,
and Ruth?
Ruth is the truth.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


 This Shabbos I spoke publicly about this week's Torah portion, parshas Vayigash, focusing on family dynamics, estrangement, reconciliation, and forgiveness.

 Parshas Vayigash is very personal and emotional for me.  I relate to the story of Yosef and his brothers profoundly.
 In fact, this week's parsha, is the one that helped me reconcile my relationship with the Torah.
I had to find a story in the Torah that I could relate to and learn from in order to be able to live a Torah life, after what happened to me.

My personal story has so many parallels to Yosef's.
Like Yosef, I have eleven siblings.
 Like Yosef, my siblings saw me (and still see me) as a threat to the family and to their destiny.
  Like Yosef, they completely cut me off.

I was about twenty five when I was officially cut off.  I haven't seen my mother or siblings in eighteen years.
 And if my path continues to follow that of Yosef it will be a few years yet, until I see them again.

Like Yosef, I was cut off for speaking a truth that my family could not comprehend or believe.
 As a young child I was sexually abused in my grandfather's yeshiva by my grandfather and his students, one of who was my father.
When I was twenty, after years of depression and quiet suffering, I finally understood what had happened to me, what was wrong with me, and told my family.
No one in my family believed me.
None of the rabbonim I turned to for help in the community believed me, either.  They said I was imagining things.
When I was about twenty five I heard that my father, who was a teacher at the time, was being investigated for molesting a boy in his class and I decided to speak up. I realized that what happened to me could not remain a secret, as my father was (and still is) working with children.
My family's rav advised them to cut me off unless I promised not to talk about my father publicly.

Like Yosef, I suffered in a psychological and emotional prison for many years. 
Like Yosef, I chose to see the bigger picture.

This is not just about me.  
This is about all of us.
Our community is dealing with a virtual plague of child sexual abuse and its damage.

Yosef was sold down to Mitzrayim to prepare food for his family.  I feel like I was "sold down to Mitzrayim" to prepare hope and healing for my family. 
 Hope is the food of survival.

 Like Yosef, I could not have become the person I am today, the person I am supposed to be, while still in contact with my family.  I accept what happened to me.   I accept that Hashem is in control of the world and not my family or me, and that what happened is exactly what was supposed to happen.

But, what about forgiveness?
 What will happen when my family (whether in this world or the next) finally realizes the truth? 
Can the pain of all the lost years, all the lost relationships ever go away?  Is forgiveness possible or even expected when a family cuts off a sibling?
Was forgiveness expected of Yosef?
Forgiveness can only exist in a culture in which repentance exists. The cultures in the world at the time of this parsha were shame and honor cultures.  ...Only Yaakov's family, (our family), had a repentance-and-forgiveness culture whose central concepts are will and choice.  ...Yosef's apparent forgiveness of his brothers is the first recorded moment in history in which one human being forgives another. (
 Before Yosef revealed himself to his brothers he tested them over and over again to see if they had truly repented.  When he hears them admit that they made a mistake when they sold him, and that they feel terrible guilt and that they are willing to do anything to prevent the same thing from happening to their younger brother, he says to them: Beraishis 45 4-8

"I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God." 

Not everyone agrees that Yosef forgave, or was expected to forgive his brothers.
Rabbi Boruch Adler in Parsha Illuminations writes: 
 "The Or Hachaim says that Yosef did not forgive his brothers he accommodated them.  He understood his role and responsibility toward them.  He was more than civil toward them.  But he did not forgive them.  Yosef did not absolve his brothers of their guilt for selling him.  He was gracious but unforgiving."  
Rabbi Jay Kelmen explains:
"...Despite the warm wishes and good intentions it is not so easy to forget the painful past.  A close examination of the Biblical text reveals that all was neither forgotten nor forgiven.  "It is me who you sold into Egypt"; your sale has led to a long a bitter exile.  Your actions set off a chain of events leading to making Israel Judenrein.  Seventy souls may come down to Egypt but the Jewish people would not leave until they would number in the hundreds of thousands many of years later...An analysis of the aftermath of the death of Yaakov is quite instructive.  "And Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead and they said: Perhaps Joseph will nurse hatred against us and he will surely repay us all that evil that we did to him" (50:15).  Life is such that despite the best efforts the past can not just be undone.  Joseph leaving home at age seventeen and rising to the top of the most powerful nation of the world no longer speaks the same language. "They did not know that Joseph understood for an interpreter was between them" (42:23).  The innocence of youth, the closeness of father and son, the familial bond was lost forever."  Rabbi Kelmen points out that even though Yosef took care of his family in Mitzrayim, he did not live near them.  They lived far away in Goshen.
 Yosef's brothers were in denial about who he really was. Although he spoke of God and justice, using very un-Egyptian like language, they could not see past his external clothing, or imagine that he wanted anything good.  
In fact the midrash says that the brothers thought Yosef wanted their most handsome brother Binyamin to come down to Mitzrayim because he wanted him as his sex slave.
"Egypt was a hotbed of immorality,(9) and infamous for homosexuality and pedophilia...The brothers' suspicion that Yosef's intentions were less than honorable should come as no surprise; they do not entertain even the faintest notion, even in their wildest dreams, that this inscrutable, immoral monarch is actually their long-lost brother, a man who was not only sold, but was physically excised, cut out of the family. They do not dream that this man is Yosef, and that he has remained chaste - even at the price of being imprisoned. They do not see a Yosef HaTzaddik, nor do they see Yosef, grown to manhood and power. They see a lustful, powerful pervert. The only master plan they perceived was one engineered to satisfy Zafnat Paneach's (Yosef's Egyptian name) sexual appetite.Yosef is not seeking revenge, nor is he seeking vindication. Everything he says to his brothers and everything he does from the moment they stand before him is geared toward bringing the brothers to recognize him, to see him - and, as a result, to see his dreams - for what they really are. It is toward that end that Yosef pushes them, but they do not seem to understand. They don't understand that it is Yosef that he wants them to seek; they don't understand that it is Yosef he wants them to accept; they don't understand that it is Yosef who is in the room with them...The brothers' failure to recognize Yosef is more than ironic, more than a personal insult, more than tragic. The fact is that everyone else who came into contact with Yosef throughout his life, including Potifar and his wife, the chief baker and the chief wine steward, the chief officer of Pharaoh's prison, and Pharaoh himself, immediately saw Yosef's greatness. Yosef rose to the top in every situation - save one:
Only his brothers could not or would not recognize his leadership qualities, his innate talent, his God-given gifts. 
 This is the essence of sinat hinam, the quintessential example of baseless hatred: The brothers' hatred blinded them to Yosef's greatness. Even when Yosef stands before them, having overcome every possible obstacle in his personal rise to power, even when he practically begs them to open their eyes and see the man behind robes of royalty, they refuse to see. They seem to prefer their jealousy and hatred over acceptance of Yosef as their rightful leader.Tragically, the brothers are willing to look everywhere else, anywhere else, rather than look their brother in the eye and see him for who he truly is. With the sale of Yosef, sinat chinam was unleashed and the Jewish People has never quite managed to correct this schism." (
Although I am obviously far from being a tzaddika, nor am I associated with any kind of royalty, my current reality with my mother and siblings is similar.  
They can not see me for who I really am.
Yosef's brothers, before he revealed himself, saw him as a pervert.  At that point in history the immorality that was prevalent in Mitzrayim was not a part of Yaakov's family.  After we moved down to mitzrayim, to a long and bitter exile, the immoral behaviors of Mitzrayim began seeping in to Yaakov's family. 
Into our family.
Pedophilia and child sexual abuse do not belong here.
Although Yosef was alone in his mission, I am one among many.  Many survivors of childhood sexual abuse in our community, who have been "sold out" by our family, and our community, are speaking out at great cost. 
Our only goal is to heal ourselves and our community.  I wish I could keep silent to protect and shield my family and myself from the shame of what happened, but the deep pain that I experienced can not be silenced.  Yosef sent everyone out of the room before he revealed his true identity, in order to protect his brothers from shame. Yet he could not hold back his cry which was heard throughout Mitzrayim.
My story, like Yosef's, is a cry of deep pain.
Just as Yosef's sale and abandonment was the beginning of the galus and exile, May mine, and other survivors sale and abandonment be the beginning of the Geula and redemption.