I have often been asked by people who experienced abuse, if Hashem gives us everything that we deserve, and if there is a measured reason for every challenge that we face, does that mean that when someone experiences abuse Hashem has decided that they deserve it?
1) What is the Torah Hashkafah on such a question?
2) What is the best way to address that question with someone who is experiencing abuse in an honest, but sensitive way?
The short answer is NO!. Bold, all-caps NO!
The Torah never, ever, ever says that it is ok to make somebody suffer or to stay in a miserable situation if there is an escape. This is a christian concept and has nothing to do with Judaism.
Personally, I’d approach this situation as follows:
1. Give them a copy of “Why does he do that: Inside the minds of angry men” by Lundy Bancroft. (This book will work for an abused man as well – the author states so in the intro).
2. Encourage the person to see a therapist a(keep in mind that most therapists are clueless when it comes to some types of abuse, so be careful. Read the book – it explains it well).
To answer your actual question, here is my personal opinion:
A good Biblical example of abuse would be the slavery and Exodus from Egypt. The Egyptians lured the Jews in with kindness and sweet promises (just like a marriage!) and gradually enslaved the Jews (just like an abuser does – slow and steady).
Did the Jews DESERVE the suffering? No. However, for some reason their neshamos needed to go through that horrific experience (Yad HaShem you’re looking for).
However, as soon as it was enough, HaShem took the Jews out. Moreover, He held the Egyptians responsible for tormenting the Jews. The classical questions is: “If HaShem wanted this to happen, why did He punish the Egyptians who just helped Him put His plan into action?” The answer is: “Because they had a free choice and didn’t have to do it. HaShem, being God, could have arranged for the slavery to happen in an infinite amount of ways, and the Egyptians didn’t have to “volunteer” for the job.”
(Similarly to if A has to die, and B kills A, why is B punished? Because he made a choice to kill A. If B didn’t kill A, HaShem could have arranged for A to die in many other ways, which didn’t involve B.)
Unfortunately, an abused person will not have a prophet come and announce that this is just enough, and it’s time to walk out; here is the sea, all dry, waiting for you to cross. So an analogy with a bacterial infection comes to mind. Nobody in their right mind, upon contracting a bacterial infection, will say: “Well, God wants me to suffer, so I’ll suffer.” A sane person will go to a doctor, take antibiotics, and, hopefully, will get better soon enough (the alternative – possible death, with was pretty common before antibiotics were discovered, isn’t even considered).
Same with abuse. A victim of abuse is an emotionally and/or physically scarred person, who needs help, help, help. Professional, quality help. The victim also needs to leave the cesspool that is getting him/her sick ASAP – but only when s/he is ready to take the step (otherwise, when things get tough – and they will – it will be all your fault).
Just like it’s a mitzvah to go to a doctor and obtain the proper treatment for a medical disease, it’s a mitzvah to get the proper treatment for an emotional problems.
Also, be ready to hear an insanely insane amount of most unbelievable crazy and evil that your friend might share with you; and get help if you have hard time processing what you hear.
Many centuries ago, a number of Jewish philosophers undertook the question: Why did the Egyptians deserve to be punished for enslaving the Jews? Were they not simply fulfilling Hashem’s will? Your question reminds me of that discussion. Indeed, cannot any criminal excuse their behavior by arguing, after the fact, that if Hashem thought that what I was doing was bad, He would have stopped me! Obviously, because He allowed it to happen, it must have been Hashem’s will!
But it’s not that simple. The reality is that sometimes in life, Hashem allows evil people to commit acts of evil, even when the victims of that evil did not deserve to be victims. This is a more complex discussion, but allow me to simplify it as follows: A person may not deserve to suffer, but they also may not deserve to have a miracle performed for them to prevent the suffering to take place at the hands of an evil person. Look at the latest tragedy in Florida with the school shooting. One evil/deranged individual decided to murder 17 young people. One approach is that Hashem had decided that each one of the victims needed to die for some unknown reason. Another approach is that while Hashem hadn’t specifically decreed upon each one of the victims, He also didn’t deem it appropriate to intervene in the actions of another free-willed creature who chose to commit murder, by jamming all the guns of the perpetrator, or otherwise stopping him from acting upon his evil will. Thus, in retrospect, it was Hashem’s “will” that each one of those victims die, but it was a “passive” allowing of their murders, and not an active decree against the individual victims.
But beyond the “hashkafic” or theological issue, your second question of how to discuss this with someone who’s been victimized is far more pertinent to real life. I think what needs to be established for any victim of abuse or any other human-initiated evil, is that Hashem created the world to allow humans with free will to commit acts of evil. Hashem is certainly not happy with the choices of those people, and He sheds tears, as it were, any time one of His children is harmed in any way, just like any parent would be deeply upset to know that one of their children was in pain. “Imo Anochi b’Tzara” – “I am with them in their time of travail.” (Psalms 91:15) That, I think, is the most important message that needs to be conveyed. I may not know why Hashem allowed this person to harm you, but I do know that He’s suffering along with you.
I’d like to add that abusers are really good at convincing their victims that all the suffering is the victim’s fault. The “if you were not deserving, God wouldn’t have allowed the abuse to happen to you” is one of the tools an abuser might use to keep the victim under control.
It is very possible that this point of view didn’t originate with a victim, but was firmly implanted in their minds by an abuser.