Abuse and Free Choice

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I have been troubled by a discussion with an orthodox rabbi about free will. It was stated that one should not be angry at a person who hits you as this action was ordained by G-d. In addition, it was stated that if you were hit you were meant to be hit as part of a life lesson. What is very troublesome about this paradigm is that it could become a rationalization for spousal abuse since a person who was hit was meant to be so. Please clarify the Torah stance on this matter.


Dear Richard ,

Consider a well-known story from the life of King David. David’s son Avshalom was attempting to overtake the kingdom and kill his father, forcing David to flee the palace for his life. When he arrived at a place called Bahurim, Shimi, a man from the family of King Saul, approached the David and his entourage, pelting them with stones and dirt, cursing David profusely and calling him terrible names. Avishai exclaimed to David, how could this dead dog curse you and we stand back and take it?! Let me sever his head! David retorted that he must be cursing him because God feels that he’s worthy of being cursed. He told them that perhaps God will see the tears in his eyes and will deliver him a blessing rather than a curse. They continued on their way, with Shimi walking upon the wall besides them, cursing David and throwing rocks and dirt.

The Midrash says that the moment David expressed his acceptance of the Divine will that he be cursed, he became the 4th leg of the Divine throne, (the first 3 legs being Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). Through his complete subjugation he became the 4th patriarch!

It then becomes difficult to understand how, on his deathbed, King David commanded his son Solomon to be sure to deliver the death penalty to Shimi for what he did to him on that day?!

The answer is that one must separate between the perpetrator and the receiver. God would not allow a person to be inflicted by another unless there’s some message that individual needs delivered; they need a wake-up call. [At times there may be other reasons as well, not for discussion here]. 

King David was teaching a timeless lesson by his example. When one is hurt or insulted by another, the Torah way is (after protecting himself and / or removing oneself from harm’s way), to look inwardly at why this must be happening, using the situation for self-improvement, rather than to focus outwardly on expressing anger at the perpetrator.

This path of acceptance of God’s will in no way exonerates the perpetrator of the sinful act of insulting or hurting another. In the case of the David, Shimi was fully liable for the death penalty for what he did. David felt that for himself to mete out that punishment would take away from his own introspection and the repentance it had inspired him to do. He rather passed on that responsibility to his son to be carried out after his death; what was coming to Shimi is between himself and God and need not involve him. 

When I first studied this message a number of years ago it was for me a truly a life-changing lesson and I use it as a guide through many thorny life situations. Living this lesson can bring about a life of calm, growth and introspection rather than one of anger, retribution and revenge.

This, of course, is no rationalization for abuse or anything similar to it. When one is in an abusive situation the first thing to do is extricate oneself from it. If counseling hasn’t been effective to remedy the situation and one needs to stay away permanently, the abused spouse (or child, etc.) should consider the above lesson as part of their healing process. This can be a very therapeutic phase by taking responsibility in a positive, introspective and spiritual way, paving the way for a more positive future. (Taking responsibility does not include feeling guilt for the situation; only the perpetrator is guilty – God has many ways He could send His messages).

This in no way, however, vindicates the transgressor of his or her actions. They are liable in the eyes of God for making the choice to hurt or abuse a fellow human being, even if that same abuse, once it is taking place, may be utilized by God to teach a necessary lesson.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried

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