So much sadness, so close to the bone. We’ve cried today. Our people are under attack. Individuals were killed, or lie in a hospital fighting for their lives. First responders/police officers put their lives on the line to save us and some are lying with the congregants in the hospitals. The community is traumatized, the children learn that their Jewish home away from home is no longer a safe place. It hurts my heart again. All over again.
And it hasn’t just been we Jews who bore the brunt of violence that comes from flaming hatred…the week started with the news of a proposal to “erase” our transgender sisters and brothers, proceeded to the letter bombs (putting not only the targets, but postal workers, too, at risk), moved on to the shooting of two African Americans in Kentucky, and ended the week—shattering Shabbat, our day of rest—on a shooting in a house of worship, where three different communities come to pray.
The New York Times’online article about the breaking news of the shooting was followed with links to “related coverage”—here were the shooting at the rural Texas church in which 26 people were killed while praying, and the shooting at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine people were killed while studying bible. Yes, it’s all related. Hatred of the other. Someone who is different. Who you think is trying to take something from you, or has more than you, or more than they “deserve”. It’s built into the DNA of western society to hate the other—maybe it used to protect us from marauding tribes. Now it serves only to hurt—the other, but also society at large. Just as injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere, so is violence anywhere violence everywhere.
I know some of us want to blame the President, and certainly he is behaving as abominably as ever, and he has invited people such as the shooter here and the bomber in Florida out from under their rocks. But they were there, under the rocks, waiting for the invitation. And shootings are not new–we have been trying to get sensible gun control laws for years before 2016. How many memorial services did President Obama attend? Sarah Palin drew bulls eyes on her political opponents years ago. It is not just the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And I know there are people who think it is wrong to talk about politics now. But the shooter made this about politics. Politics is about making society better, making life better for the individual people in society. Let’s mourn, but let’s look at solutions.
As Maya Angelou taught us, “I’m convinced of this: Good done anywhere is good done everywhere. For a change, start by speaking to people rather than walking by them like they’re stones that don’t matter. As long as you’re breathing, it’s never too late to do some good.”
And the Torah teaches us to not hate our sibling in our heart (Lev. 19:17)—if we can but see each person as our brother or sister in humanity—each with that spark of the divine. And the Talmud teaches that the Temple was destroyed because of sinat hinam(senseless hatred) (BT Yoma 9b). What is more senseless than hating people for the God they pray to, or the color of their skin, or who they love?
Nils Bohr wrote, “The belief that there is only one truth and that oneself is in possession of it seems to me the deepest root of all the evil that is in the world.”
Let’s commit to a practice of doing good—speak with people and listen as they too might have an important truth, see them as created with a spark of the divine. Let’s stop calling others stupid, or evil, or small-minded. Let’s assume that they have a reason for doing what they’re doing—unless it’s violent, or meant to hurt others, or deny people their humanity. Then let’s stand up for our values.
I pray that we can spread love and justice and truth and beauty as easily as violence seems to spread. That we can mourn our dead, and make sure their names are not lost and their memories become a blessing.