Picture of the author
Picture of the author

Stop Tolerating Abuse

Redemption Begins When I Stop Making Peace with the Lies

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

  • December 31, 2021
  • |
  • 27 Tevet 5782
  • Comment

Class Summary:

New essay by Rabbi YY Jacobson

Dedicated by Alan Warner

Moses’ Early Years

It is one of the most intriguing components of the Exodus story. As we pointed out in a previous essay, the first leader of the Jewish people, who would set them free and mold them into a nation, grew up not among his own people, but in the palace of the man who wished to destroy them.

Why did Providence have it that Moses was raised not in a Jewish home, but among non-Jews, in the Egyptian palace?

Liberation from Tolerance

The English translations of the Torah rarely capture the multi-dimensional underpinnings behind many words. One example in this week's portion (Vaera): "Therefore," G-d speaks to Moses, "Say to the Children of Israel: I am G-d, and I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt; I shall rescue you from their slavery; I shall redeem you."[1]

The Hebrew word for "burdens," sivlos, can also be translated as "tolerance" (as in “lesbol,” to bear, or “savlanut,” which means patience).[2] Tolerance is a form of burden carrying, of accepting a challenge. If this is correct, then G-d is communicating a potent message: "Say to the Children of Israel: I am G-d, and I shall take you out from tolerating Egypt." I will liberate you from your patience, from tolerating the Egyptian horrors.[3]

The Genesis of Redemption

This is a critical moment because it is the genesis of redemption—physical, emotional, or spiritual.

Many of us, after being subjected to dysfunctional conditions, learn to acclimate ourselves to the bleak reality. This can be worse than the condition itself since it keeps me stuck in my prison.

The beginning of the Exodus could only occur when the Hebrew slaves refused to tolerate the horrors they were enduring. If I am not fed up with being weak and bullied, with being a victim of addiction or fear, my journey of redemption cannot commence.

It is not easy. Learned helplessness runs deep. Denying or repressing the depth of the dysfunction is a way of numbing myself to the suffering. I must be able to feel the pain of my alienation from self to be able to begin the voyage toward liberation.[4]

Abuse In Our Communities

The events this week in Israel have once again accentuated this truth.

Sadly, many people, including some in leadership positions, are ill-informed of the detrimental effects of child molestation and sexual abuse of all ages. The average person who has not suffered through this calamity doesn’t realize how so many of the abused suffer for years or decades from feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, shame, guilt, and pain. Many of the victims—due to their profound pain and skewed sense of self—find temporary relief in all forms of destructive behavior. Many of them fall prey to terrible addictions in order to escape their agony. Untold numbers of these innocent souls are haunted by unbearable nightmares that won’t allow them to lead a normal life internally. Most of them struggle to maintain functional marriages since their sexual boundaries have been brutally violated. Some of them, in their own disrupted sexuality, end up hurting other children. 

Though recovery is surely possible—for the soul is more powerful than all else, and the Divine infinite power within each of us can overcome all darkness—the pain they must endure is heart-wrenching.

Many people are equally ill-informed of how rampant the problem is, and of the great number of our youth that has been victimized over the years. Many researchers claim that one in five children experience some form of sexual abuse or trauma, affecting them on different levels. 

We can't tolerate this any longer. Just as we would do anything to stop a gunman from walking our streets and taking lives, heaven forbid (what Jewish law calls a “rodef”), so must we do anything and everything to stop the people who are murdering the psyches and emotional innocence of our children. 

We must also begin educating every single one of our young adults about two critical factors: 1) If they have been molested, help is available. They must know that if they will break the silence and reveal their story, they will be embraced rather than shunned, and will be guided with loving care towards a life of wholesomeness and happiness. We must give all of them the names and contact information of approved professionals, so they can reach out to them if necessary. 2) Preventive medicine: If they might ever be prone to engage in these terrible acts themselves, they must know: A) the horrific impact of such actions; and B) that there are things they can do to help them avoid becoming potential monsters who will surely destroy lives. They must all know that help is readily available for people with an inclination toward touching children inappropriately.

Parents and educators must discuss these dangers with their children and students—both the danger of becoming a victim, as well as the danger of becoming an abuser. Every—and I mean every—Yeshiva student must be educated about these two items.

We must also educate the community—both children and adults—on how important it is to talk to someone if they are privy to any sort of abuse being perpetrated in the community. To withhold this kind of information is essentially akin to being an accomplice and an enabler of the unthinkable crime of destroying lives in this vicious cycle. Most victims are too afraid or ashamed to speak up—and surely it is not their fault. They are terrified of being shunned, not believed, and of the possibility of being rejected forever. That is where our community stands today. We must change that and teach all of our youngsters that they will be heard, listened to, believed, and embraced with a loving heart and open arms. They will not be judged or ridiculed. We will treat their pain with the deepest respect and empathy.

The Outsider

Free people, G-s is telling Moses, are people who know how to stop tolerating lies, dysfunction, cover-ups, and abuse. A free nation is one that has the courage to face its skeletons and cast a light on them.

This is why the redeemer of Israel needed to grow up in the Egyptian palace, not among his own people. To quote Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra (12th-century Spanish philosopher, poet, and biblical commentator): [5]

Perhaps G-d caused Moses to grow up in the home of royalty so that his soul would be accustomed to a higher sense of learning and behavior, and he would not feel lowly and accustomed to a house of slavery. You see that he killed an Egyptian who did a criminal act [beating an innocent Hebrew to death], and he saved the Midianite girls from the criminal shepherds who were irrigating their own flock from the water the girls have drawn.

Had Moses grown up among the Hebrew slaves, he too might have suffered from a slave-mentality lacking the courage to fight injustice and devoid of the ability to mold an enslaved tribe into a great people with a vision of transforming the world into a place worthy of the divine presence. He would not find within himself the strength to dream of liberty and confront the greatest tyrant of the time. Only because he grew up in a royal ambiance, did Moses have a clear sense of the horrific injustice and feel the power to fight it.

It was Dr. Martin Luther King’s ability not to embrace the status quo which turned him into a great leader, inspiring a new era of liberty in the United States. As our own country faces today such divisiveness and extremism on the Left and the Right, we need to ask ourselves if we have not reverted to our “reptilian brains,” and cannot see anything larger than what we are being indoctrinated with by people driven by hate and bias? Can we stop tolerating being told all the time what to think, and labeling people in extreme ways just because they do not fit into the narrow paradigms that we created to define morality and justice?   


Just as this was true in Egypt, it is also true today. We have been in exile for close to two millennia. But the greatest danger is when we come to tolerate it, when it is seen as normal.

The beginning of our redemption is in our awareness that our exile is unnatural and cruel. Can we learn to begin thinking with the broadness of a redemptive model? Can we cry out sincerely about our individual and collective pain of alienation?

Standards Determine Destiny

 A little story.[6]

In the 1950s, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, walking on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, encountered two administrators of a local yeshiva (Jewish day school) gazing at a yellow school bus parked on the road.

When the Rebbe asked them what they were looking at, they said that the bus was on sale and they were thinking of purchasing it for the yeshiva. "We desperately need our own bus," they told the Rebbe.

"But this bus looks like an old shmateh," the Rebbe said. "It seems like it's on the verge of retirement. Why not purchase a brand-new bus for the children?"

"If we could only afford that type of money!" they exclaimed. "The price of this old bus is something we could maybe fit into our budget."

"Let me tell you something," the Rebbe responded. "You know why you can't afford the money for a new bus? Because in your mind, the old and run-down bus will suffice for your yeshiva. If it would be clear to you that the children need a new and beautiful bus, you would have the money to purchase it."

What the Rebbe was saying is that in many cases, your standards are often what ultimately define the quality and destiny of your life.[7]


[1] Exodus 6:6.

[2] Sefas Emea Vaera 1871, 1876, in the name of his grandfather.

[3] This interpretation also explains the apparent redundancy in the verse: "I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt" followed by, "I shall rescue you from their slavery." The two statements seem to be repetitive. According to the above translation, the first statement discusses an exodus from tolerating Egypt, while the second alludes to the liberation from slavery and forced labor in Egypt.

[4] Thus, the Torah, in last week's portion (Shemos), commences the story of G-d choosing Moses to lead the Jewish people out of slavery with the following words: "The children of Israel groaned because of their subjugation and they cried out. Their outcry because of their slavery went up to G-d. G-d heard their cries and He remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." The curse of the Egyptian exile consisted not only of the oppression of the Hebrews; it also inculcated within many an enslaved mindset. The abuse was so profound that many of them learned to see their misery as innate.

This may be one of the reasons why when Moses presented the promise of redemption to the Jewish people, "They did not heed Moses, because of shortness of breath and hard work" (Exodus 6:9). The hard work was not only a physical impediment; it also created a slave mentality.

[5] Ibn Ezra Exodus 2:3. Though Moses was a Levi, and the tribe of Levi was not subject to hard labor, they were nonetheless still enslaved, they were part of a nation of slaves to one degree or another. The decree to murder the Jewish male infants applied to the tribe of Levi too. Prisoners who are not subject to slave labor, are still in prison.

[6] My thanks to Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Hadakov (New Haven, Conn.) for sharing this lovely story with me.

[7] This essay is based on Sefas Emes Parshas Veira, authored by the second Rebbe of the Chassidic dynasty of Gur, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter (1847-1905). This explanation in the word "sivlos," as well as the concept conveyed in this essay, is quoted by him in the name of his grandfather, the first Rebbe of Gur, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Rottenberg Alter, known as the Chedushei Harim (1799-1866).

Please leave your comment below!

  • Anonymous -2 years ago

    Healing is Possible

    The road to recovery from abuse is possible. 

    Getting the right therapy is crucial.

    Victims need to be supported and validated that they are not at fault for what occurred. 

    Victims of abuse sadly suffer emotionally and there is trauma that needs to be worked through ... The process if done correctly can B"EH enable victims to go on to lead normal happy lives. 

    ד ישמור אותנו מכל צר

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • TC

    Trauma Coach -2 years ago

    Victims need to heal

    Its so important for victims of any type of abuse to get counseling by someone trained in dealing with trauma.

    In order to heal from trauma  the victim needs to express their feelings of being helpless and violated and they should be supported with extreme sensitivity and compassion that they were taken advantage of and it was wrong of the perpetrator.

    The victims need to be encouraged to talk about it and grieve. Its a process.

    It takes great courage for victims of abuse to come forward Sadly a high percentage of victims of abuse are familiar with their abusers and therefore they keep silent. A child is dependent on adults so especially children need to be heard and believed (of course an investigation is needed just to be sure)

    If the victim keeps silent or even worse thinks that they "deserved" to be violated they likely will repeat it as they have not come to terms that the acts of abuse were very very wrong. That is where the cycle of abuse comes from. If the victim doesn't speak it out, acknowledge that it was wrong and grieve they most likely will re-enact that which occurred  to them ch"v with others (maybe in a different form or fashion). 

    Hoping that this tragic incident that effected so many on so many levels will be a catalyst for people to speak out -the victims and the Rabbi's.

    Silence empowers the abusers! 

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • AARA

    Ahron and rivkah apter -2 years ago

    Thanks for saying loud the true Daas Torah.

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • Anonymous -2 years ago

    Hi Rabbi, I am a victim of sexual,physical, emotional and mental abuse. I was abused by my uncle for 31 years. I shared this with you. You were and continue to be extremely supportive of me and my journey to healing as well as many other victims that I know. You really made it your business to know and understand abuse, trauma and dissociation. I would like to point out that in this letter I got he feeling that victims of sexual abuse may want to abuse children just as they were abused. That hit a very raw nerve in my system. As a mother and wife that suffer from disosiative identity disorder I have had ignorant people doubting my ability to be safe with children. It is EXTREMELY PAINFUL!!!!! My close family, friends, therapists and doctors involved in my case have to constantly be reminding my younger alters how adult me is protective and would do ANYTHING to prevent a child from abuse. With all due respect, can you please clarify publicly that abuse victims are not monsters?! Thanks for your constant sensitivity in this matter.

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • A

    Anna -2 years ago

    I wish the Rabbi would have mentioned the abuse of children by their parents, I, for one was abused by my mother; physically and emotianally, consequently, in my life, any man who told me I was smart and beautiful had my body. To this day I am subjected to this belief and this befhavior.

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • SG

    Sarah Goldberg -3 years ago

    As Yakov, below points out, Moshe spent his formative years

    With his parents.  Though the Leviim were not forced into slave labor, as mentioned,  still they were prisoners.  Ergo, Michelle grew up as much a prisoner as other Leviim.

    For that matter so did Aaron and he certainly stood up, and even spoke up, to Pharoah despite having  slave mentality. 

    How did Aaron leave Mitrayim to go greet Moshe if no slave ever escaped? How did they both get in past border guards or was allowing people in no problem? 

    "Our [current] exile is unnatural abd cruel". Unnatural maybe (no Beis Hamigdash) but the wifespread relative luxury and freedoms enjoyed by most yidden today doesn't seem that cruel. Jews today are among the richest and in EY and USA among the freest. 

    We face the incipious danger of assimilation by way of freedom and luxury rather than assimilation by way of force and oppression.  

    I opine that there is  still a minority of Americans with a slave mentality or the dust if and so demand special status and even reparations for the slavery  their ancestors endured.  

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • Y

    Yaakov -3 years ago

    hi rabbi yy,  re yeshiva. net by phone....  it only allows if you have class number. i think many more pplwould listen if there was a directory of topics or class titles.  i read your article re tolerance.  although moshe grew up in the palace, he did spend
    significant time with his jewish family, yes?  how else would he learn who he is, where he comesfrom etc? 

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

Essay Vaeira

Rabbi YY Jacobson
  • December 31, 2021
  • |
  • 27 Tevet 5782
  • |
  • Comment

Dedicated by Alan Warner

Class Summary:

New essay by Rabbi YY Jacobson

Related Classes

Please help us continue our work
Sign up to receive latest content by Rabbi YY

Join our WhatsApp Community

Join our WhatsApp Community

Ways to get content by Rabbi YY Jacobson
Connect now
Picture of the authorPicture of the author