Betrayal

Betrayal is an extremely powerful emotion. It overwhelms and upsets, calling into question not just the betrayer but everything about them and in turn, everything about ourselves. It takes everything that you thought you knew to be true and tests it in agonizing and uncomfortable ways and it can irrevocable change the way we see things. We ask ourselves many questions. Why did you place yourself in a position to be betrayed? Were you too trusting? Where do I go from here?   Can I ever risk placing myself in this place again? We turn inward and begin to victimize the victim.

This is all the more so when the betrayer is a rabbi, someone who holds a sacred trust and a position of esteem and authority. It is hard to separate person from title. It is almost impossible. So when an individual crosses the line, he or she takes with him the title they carry. That trust once violated shatters the vessel and we can spend our lifetime trying to piece it back together. The case of Barry Freundel is sadly only an example.

The pain of betrayal takes time to heal and often cannot be done without help. This is paradoxical, as the process requires placing trust in someone on the heels of that very experience going badly astray. But we are all responsible as rabbis and congregants for addressing this wrong. Betrayal is not the province of a particular denomination. It is a problem for all of us attempting to serve our people and maintaining the kavod haRav that the title Rabbi merits. We can take steps to help ensure that abuses of power are minimized. We must also be willing to admit that trust and respect are earned over time and every day, not entitlements based on a title. Our people must be sensitive to this as well and maintain proper boundaries. Encounters and conversations between an individual and his/her rabbi need to be sacred and private, but not secretive; Office doors need to have windows.

It takes painstaking effort to repair what has been shattered. This act of Tikkun will take much time and honest reflection. We can hope that the pain of the betrayal does not lead to permanent bitterness and cynicism. Both the community and the rabbis must do all we can to demonstrate that the despicable actions of an individual do not condemn all that is valuable and precious in the venerated position of rabbi serving the Jewish people.

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