“24 Days into the Year, 69 Deaths in Mass Shootings.” My heart sank this Wednesday as I read the front-page headline of the New York Times. I want to share Jewish teachings relevant to this social issue. Protecting life is our most sacred obligation in Judaism. “Thou shalt not murder,” says the Second Commandment. We believe that the Divine Presence (the Schina) is diminished whenever a human life is lost. This is why the Kaddish prayer begins with the word “Vayitgadal,” which means may the Divine Image that has been diminished by a death of a human being, “May it be restored.”
Our whole religion is organized around being a people, a Kehilah, a community. We have communal obligations and civic responsibilities. This is the Jewish social contract laid out in the Torah. Deuteronomy tells us, “If you build a new house, you must build a low wall around the roof’s edge so that no one falls off and dies and brings guilt upon your house.” This teaches us that we have an obligation to protect people from danger. The exorbitant presence of guns bring danger. Three weeks ago, in Virginia, a 6-year-old brought a gun to school and shot his teacher who was critically wounded. How does a 6-year-old gain access to a fire-arm?
The Torah teaches we have the right to defend ourselves. This is especially relevant today for the State of Israel which calls its army the Israel Defense Force. The question for us here in America is how to balance rugged individualism with public safety. It is heart breaking that in Uvalde, Texas parents are afraid to send their children to school because they fear being shot. In Buffalo simply going to the grocery store could render you a victim. If you go out dancing in California, you could be killed in a mass shooting. How do we balance the Second Amendment with the Second Commandment?
In America guns are idolized. Does the First Commandment not warn us of the dangers of idols?
We are a congregation of highly educated and accomplished people. Surely, we can put our heads together to come up with ideas how to practically preserve the sanctity of life. Let’s work together using our Jewish values as a compass to our moral and social responsibilities.
The prophet Isaiah gives us a vision. “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” This is our religion’s vision of a peaceful society. The obligation is upon us to make this vision of peace real in our lives and in our day. Alavai, (may it come to be.)
Rabbi David Wilfond