Gun violence is the plague of our time. It is heart wrenching. Our children are dying. Our elected officials are standing idly by. This Friday night we will take part in Ceasefire Shabbat, joining with congregations across the country as we bring attention to the horrific realities around guns. We will find some direction, comfort and inspiration in our togetherness. We will be reminded that we are not without power: to advocate, to vote, to give, to educate and more.
Here is some of what I intend to say at services:
Gun violence. Could there be a more egregious, aggressive, horrific form of violence?
It’s an issue that’s contentious and complex. I know. We can address it from the point of view of legislation, from the point of view of history, we can address it theologically or philosophically. We can think about it sociologically. What does it mean when a society is so totally enamored with guns? What does that say about us? What does it say to our kids? I’m guessing that you, like me, have wrestled with this issue for ages now and explored it from every direction. From a place of emotion, confusion, frustration. You’ve stressed about it. You’ve been infuriated by all of it. It’s kept you up. It’s kept me up.
We are so totally exasperated. Our heart has been shattered and then shattered again. We’ve marched and prayed. There was the March for Our Lives in Washington, where you and I and a million others stood and felt the force of a movement led by our youth, the voices of teens and college students who said ‘enough is enough.’ We’ve written letters. We’ve listened to sermons. We’ve learned and lobbied. We’ve yelled at our television. We’ve thought about giving up and saying once and for all that this is simply the way and always will be.
More and more I’m thinking about the scourge of gun violence as a Jew. What would Hillel say or Rabbi Akiva? What would Maimonides say? I think the great sages of our tradition would be horrified; they were lovers of peace. Tractate Gittin of the Talmud teaches that the whole Torah is for the sake of the ways of peace. Maimonides teaches that the whole Torah was given to establish peace in the world. King David was not allowed to build the great Temple in Jerusalem precisely because he had led his people to war. Our tradition raises up peace and compassion above everything else time and again. The Ten Commandments tell us we shall not murder. The proverbs tell us the way of Torah is the way of peace; ‘its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace.’
A prayer book is a compendium of peace songs: Oseh Shalom Bimromav… ‘May the One who makes peace in the high heavens make peace for us.’ Or: ‘Grant us peace Your most precious gift O Eternal source of peace.’ In such pleas, we see too that peace has always been elusive for us.
And what about the Torah? What about this week’s portion? B’haalotecha is the third portion in the Book of Numbers; it’s a portion about the tabernacle, this large, portable sanctuary our ancestors carried through the wilderness enroute to the Promised Land. They sought safe haven in their own time, as we do today amid the panoply of concerns and pains we carry.