Earlier this week, I was one of more than 500 people who attended a 3-Day Conference on child and family safety. Now sitting in the home-bound plane, I am finally able to start processing the tidal wave of information and wide range of emotions that washed over the participants during the conference.
With Shabbos approaching, my thoughts turned to Parshas Vayishlach, this week’s Torah reading, and in particular, the story of Dena, . . . Yaakov’s daughter being violated as Yaakov was traveling back to his father’s home.
One aspect of this event attracted my attention as it never did before, namely the social standing of the two families.
The predator was the son of the most powerful family in the city, as his father was serving as its mayor, while the victim belonged to a family of newcomers, having no social or familial ties to any of the local residents.
This is so strikingly similar to what often transpires nowadays. In fact, one of the issues that kept coming up at the conference was our individual and communal responsibility to stand with the victim, and stand up to the abuser. All the more so, because so often it is the powerful, well-connected people who prey on vulnerable kids from families who have far less in the way of social standing.
The Rambam codifies the notion of communal responsibility in the context of what happened to Dena -- in particular after the crime occurred. He notes (Hilchos Melachim) that non-Jews are [also] obligated to set up judicial systems to maintain law and order, and explains that the failure of all the inhabitants of Shechem to do so, made them deserving of their fate.
Listening carefully to the words of Yaakov as he rebuked Shimon and Levi, we hear, what those of us who support victim’s families commonly hear - their fear of being shamed and even put in danger by defending their abused family member in the face of the “people who know people.” Having suffered from Eisav and Lavan, Yaakov just wanted to “live b’shalva (in peace)."
So do today's victims. And it is our moral responsibility to support them and not their abusers.
As we read Parshas Vayishlach this week, let us all commit ourselves to stand with abuse victims as our Torah clearly obligates us to do.
(Please see "Our Children Are Not Hefker" for an alternative reading of the response Shimon and Levi offered their father, and scroll down there for links to many more essays on child safety).
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