A Call for Healing

Let us take a moment of silence to remember all who perished in 9/11, including Glen Winnick, who had his Bar Mitzvah at the Jericho Jewish Center, served as a volunteer fire fighter and worked at the World Trade Center.

I put on the headphones and slowly stepped into the room. I felt the cold metal in my hand as I carefully gripped the handle. I steadied myself, pushing my finger back to the trigger and saw the target. I raised the pistol, aimed and fired. The guy next to me had what looked like a semiautomatic machine gun and kept firing round after round. After I finished my ammo, I was shaking. I spoke to the congregant who brought me and said, “this is such a foreign experience to me.” He replied, “going to a shooting range in Arizona is like eating a deli sandwich in New York.”

This was my one experience with guns. For some gun use is recreational. For others, however, gun use is pathological. By the time I finish this talk, 15 people will die from guns. The fact that over 300 people are shot each day demonstrates that we have a broken process that must be changed. It’s far too easy to obtain a firearm and use it for destructive purposes.

One need only think of the shootings in Charleston, San Bernadino, Paris, Orlando, Sandy Hook Columbine, and all those that have not made the national news. I imagine that each of us decries these shootings and felt our heart wrenched for the innocent victims. Whenever we hear of innocent blood being spilled, our hearts are torn and we can get full of anger and outrage. We worry about our lives and those of our loved ones and we strive to protect ourselves. That’s why we have increased security for this year’s high holidays. At the same time, we want to have a sense of healing and wholeness, some semblance of an answer to this senselessness.

This summer I read an article by Rabbi Joshua Flug entitled “Gun Control in Halachah”[1] in Jewish Action, the magazine of the Orthodox Union. Rabbi Flug begins with next week’s parsha, which states that one may not place hazards in his/her home.[2] Rambam, or Maimonides, a 12th century physician for among others the Sultan, asserts that any potentially lethal hazard must be removed from one’s possession.[3]

There are different opinions as to whether one can bring a gun into shul on Shabbat. The Talmud records a debate between Rabbi Eliezer and other rabbis over whether a weapon counts as carrying. While the rabbis assert that it does, Rabbi Eliezer proclaims that a weapon is an adornment to one’s clothing, like jewelry, and therefore is permitted.[4] The Shulchan Aruch states that some forbid entering a synagogue with a long sword because a synagogue lengthens the days of life through prayer whereas a sword shortens them.[5] However, Mishnah Berurah cites Eliyahu Rabbah which states that one can bring a sword as long as it is covered.[6] Of course a sword is different than a gun, so we need to go to the modern Poskim, rabbinic decisors. The Tzitz Eliezer states that one can bring a gun to shul as long as the bullets are taken out, for then it no longer resembles a weapon.[7]

But is this really the final word? What do we do when a terrorist enters our house of worship? I remember too well the shooting at a Sikh Temple outside of Milwaukee as well as the murder of African Americans at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. We also remember bombings of Jewish institutions throughout the world, in Istanbul, Buenos Aries, Atlanta, Jerusalem to name a few.

I’m sure we have different views on guns, yet I imagine we agree that these senseless acts of violence need to stop. There’s a group called Rabbis Against Gun Violence, of which I am a member. In June after the Orlando massacre, a book was written for which rabbis were welcome to submit essays, poems or thoughts. Here is what I wrote, called “Two Worlds”:

 

In which world will my daughter grow up?

The world in which people are loved for who they are

Or the world in which people are hated for being different?

 

In which world will my daughter grow up?

The world of open-mindedness and compassion

Or the world of prejudice and racism?

 

In which world will my daughter grow up?

The world in which we work together

Or the world in which we grow apart?

 

In which world will my daughter grow up?

The world of self-fulfillment and happiness

Or the world of frustration and anger?

 

In which world will my daughter grow up?

The world where guns are melted down to make building tools

Or the world where guns are used for wanton acts of violence?

 

I will do my part to ensure

That my daughter grows up in the world of embracing others

Loving all people regardless of race, religion and sexual orientation

And pray that the world in which she will live

Will no longer know the horror of these shootings.

 

We need to act to ensure a better future, one where people are taught love not hate, one where there is room for those who look different or are of a different race or religion. Obviously I’m preaching to the choir. However, I believe that healing begins with oneself, letting go of any prejudices or animosity that we feel and striving to bring forth a world filled with love and compassion. This is easier said than done in our world which too often has violence and senseless hatred, yet if we work hard to teach the next generation kindness and acceptance, we have a chance to bring it forward. As Rabbi Shalom Noach Borozovsky teaches in his book Netivot Shalom, we cannot be another, only ourselves, and we must use our full self to engage in תקון עולם, repair of the world.[8]

Almighty G-d, let us pray for all the victims of the shootings. May we be vigilant against those who seek to do us harm while trying to bring goodness and healing to those who have experienced tragic losses. Let us never take life for granted, striving to live each day with a sense of wholeness and purpose even when newspaper articles, the internet and the television seem to be focusing on violence and divisiveness. G-d, help us to do everything we can to work constructively to repair the shards of emptiness and desolation in our world, and in so doing, we must do our part to bring healing. May we protect ourselves while concurrently praying for the day when “men shall beat their swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.”[9]  In your name רפאך, the healer, we pray, Amen.

[1] “Jewish Action,” Summer 2016.

[2] Deuteronomy 22:8

[3] Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Rotzeach 11:4

[4] Mishnah Shabbat 6:4

[5] Shulchan Aruch 151:6

[6] Mishnah Berurah 151:22

[7] Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, Tzitz Eliezer 10:18

[8] Netivot Shalom, Parshat Lech Lecha

[9] Isaiah 2:4

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