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May 26, 2022

05/26/2022 12:43:48 PM


Rabbi Hearshen

I have a confession to make. These articles are easy for me to write. Each week when I write words of Torah for our community, it takes me very little time. We all have gifts we’re born with and this is the one I have. As easy as they are for me to write, this one you’re about to read has been very difficult. These words are not flowing easily and they are not without deep thought and reflection.

I remember where I was on April 20, 1999. I remember where I was on December 14, 2012. I remember where I was on February 14, 2018. And now I remember where I was this week on May 24, 2022. These are just a few of the tragic dates in our collective history. Each of these dates is a moral stain on our nation and our sacred obligation to each other and our children.

This past Shabbat I spoke about the racist murders in Buffalo, NY. I spoke about the gun violence in our country and the fact that we, as a nation, need to talk. I spoke about freedom coming with a cost. No freedom can ever be misconstrued as absolute aside from freedom of thought. All freedoms for one person inherently impose on the freedoms of another. To live in a world with absolute freedom would be to live in anarchy and thus chaos and danger. We live in a society, and as such, each of us must collectively recognize we need to give up some freedoms. One example is the freedom of speech enshrined in the first amendment. We’re free to say what we want but we’re limited when that speech harms or potentially harms other people. We cannot shout fire in a movie theatre. We cannot threaten elected officials. We cannot swing our arms and hit other people. We have limits because that’s what it means and takes to live together in a society.

There’s no denying people in America feel very passionately about the issue of guns. There’s no denying people who are in favor of 2nd amendment rights feel in their core they have the right, and at times the need, to own and carry guns. There’s no denying those opposed to the status quo feel passionately that gun ownership, as it is currently understood, is an inherent danger to our personal and collective safety. We refuse to talk about it. We refuse to have meaningful communication and thus work towards meaningful legislation.

When will the time come when thoughts and prayers will be insufficient? When will we arrive at a moment that words will fail to convey the message? One could argue we should only be grieving right now. One could argue we should not be talking about solutions when the dead haven’t even been buried. That is wrong. In the words of Pirkei Avot: If not now… when? The reality is the other words of that famous quote of the sage, Hillel, are also appropriate: If I am not for myself who will be for me and if I am only for myself what am I? In these conversations, we constantly fall back on the argument that we have individual rights. Hillel would ask what are you if that is all you can say? Hillel would ask what about the countless parents who are scared they will not see their children again? What about the children who will never see their friends again or un-see the carnage they were cursed to experience? What about the teachers who remain vulnerable in their classrooms? What about the shoppers at stores and attendees at concerts? What about the worshippers at synagogues, churches and mosques? How are they to be for themselves when this country has decided the rights for people to own guns and bullets of any size and quantity outweigh all others?

The argument has also been made that getting rid of guns will not solve the problem. Again, I look to the words of Pirkei Avot: It is not for you to complete the task but you cannot stop trying. None of us can be so naïve to believe for a moment that gun violence is going away, but for us to throw our hands up and not even try to fix it is a dereliction of duty. We each must do more and try more. We each must recognize that the world in which we live is not okay. It is not okay for 19 families to be burying their children. It is not okay for two families to be burying their loved ones who were teachers in the classroom. None of this is okay and any deflecting and refusal to work on solutions is a gross act of shunning our collective responsibility.

I would like to share with you the lyrics to a song by Jack Johnson that I listen to over and over again each time this happens:

Cookie Jar

And I would turn on the TV
But it's so embarrassing
To see all the other people
I don't know what they mean
And it was magic at first
When they spoke without sound
But now this world is gonna hurt
You better turn that thing down
Turn it around

Well, it wasn't me, says the boy with the gun,

Sure, I pulled the trigger but it needed to be done,
Because life's been killing me ever since it begun
You can't blame me because I'm too young

You can't blame me, sure the killer was my son

But I didn't teach him to pull the trigger of the gun
It's the killin' on his TV screen,
You can't blame me it's those images he's seen

Well, you can't blame me, says the media man

I wasn't the one who came up with the plan
But I just point my camera at what the people wanna see,
Now it's a two-way mirror, and you can't blame me

You can't blame me, says the singer of the song

And the maker of the movie which he based his life on
It's only entertainment as anyone can see
It's smoke machines and makeup, man you can't fool me

It was you, it was me, it was every man,

We've all got the blood on our hands
We only receive what we demand,
If we want hell, then hell's what we'll have

And I would turn on the TV

But it's so embarrassing
To see all the other people
I don't know what they mean
And it was magic at first
But let everyone down
But now this world is gonna hurt
You better turn it around
Turn it around

The reality is that guns are only one part of the problem. A very large part, but nevertheless one part. We live in a country that does not care about mental health and stigmatizes those who have battles with mental illness. We live in a country that allows for our insurance industry to treat mental health differently than it treats physical health. We live in a country that sees violence as entertaining. We allow our children to digest movies and other media filled with violence from the earliest ages. We live in a country that trivializes guns through toys and video games. We live in a country that sees children playing cops and robbers and/or cowboys and Indians as harmless. We live in a country with all of these problems and yet we have unmitigated rights to guns, and with that, we have a national disaster of our own making. There will never be a prayer for that because God cannot fix what we as humans have chosen to break.

Sun, June 26 2022 27 Sivan 5782