There are no words to properly describe the horror of last friday’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. I was a wreck the entire Friday. My job requires me to be strong and put on a good face over Shabbos. I did the best I could. My sermon was heavily influenced by my feelings about the tragedy. After Shabbos and on Sunday and Monday, it was still too hard to get through full sentences when reading or talking about the tragedy. It was impossible to watch the news.
I did talk a little about the tragedy on Facebook and tried to facilitate some discussion. But it was too hard to write about it in this space.
It’s still hard, but less so at this point. That’s the blessing of our ability to forget. But it’s also a curse to be able forget if we don’t do what we can to prevent future tragedy.
I have a few things to say on the tragedy and they are not really related. So please excuse the unrelated points in this post.
It’s impossible to read about parents losing their children in this senseless shooting and not be so thankful every day that our children (or your brothers and sisters, or your nieces and nephews) are safe. It makes us pause and reflect on how precious our children are to us. It makes us want to shower our children with love and keep them safe and happy. It makes us forget any tzaar gidul banim that we may have felt. All we want to do is reassure our children that they will be okay and that we will always be there for them. People mean it when they say “hug your children a little more” after a tragedy like this. I know I did.
II. Mental Health
We need better mental health awareness and care in this country. This area of medicine is always evolving and what we know now is so much more than what we knew years ago. We can do more than ever for people who need help. But unfortunately, there is a very negative stigma attached to those who need mental health care. We push people away from it as long as possible to avoid the stigma and then it can sometimes be too late to make a real difference. So while more care is important, it is even more important that those who need and receive care are not stigmatized.
A few hundred years ago we would have said that these people were possessed by the devil or a dybbuk. Now we know better. But we need to act differently and not see them as horrible people, rather they are people with challenges just like everyone else.
The biggest challenge America faces as a society is that we do not share a common ancestry or ethnicity. It is also a huge blessing and makes America a beautiful melting pot. But because we are not as connected as people in other nations our sense of community suffers. People feel isolated. We live very manufactured lives. Most of us are not involved in the process of producing stuff, we just consume stuff. We are detached from our communities and neighbors. This has several harmful effects.
First, it means that if the neighbor’s kid is acting strange or we think he needs help, we don’t say anything. It’s not our business, we say. We are not comfortable poking into other people’s lives. Privacy is great and I think people should mind their own business. The problem is that “their own business” is so narrow that it only includes a very small number of people. I think it’s healthy when people are able to have relationships with others that change their business into your own business. If you think about it, my brother’s business is my business. That’s because we care about each other. We love each other. What he does matters to me. But I don’t feel that way about my neighbor. Certainly, some bounderies are necessary for a functioning society, but I think we need to care about each other more. When we think someone needs help, we need to have the courage to say something and we also need to have the courage to hear it and not lash out against those trying to help.
Second, it means that someone can get to the point that they are so isolated that they can shoot children and not care. A person who feels empathy and connects with others in their community does not kill people in that community. This is a general solution that could solve so much of our crime. People don’t harm people that they care about. We need to expand the group of people of whom we care about.
We need to figure out why mass shootings are a uniquely American phenomena. I think this might be part of the reason. Judaism very strongly promotes creating this kind of empathetic society. We need to do a better job amongst ourselves to play our role as a light unto the nations.
I am not going to discuss arguments for or against increased gun control laws. It’s a very, very, very complicated issue and neither side of the debate has a viable solution.
However, I have a different observation. Let’s assume that increased or decreased gun control laws won’t significantly affect future mass shootings. There is still an argument to be made that some people don’t want to “live in a place that embraces / bans guns”. In other words, sometimes the law is not what makes the difference, it’s the principle of the law. Pro-gun people will say “I want to live in a place where citizens can have guns and have the right to defend themselves against violent crime”. Anti-gun people will say “I want to live in a place where gun ownership is taboo”.
But I think this argument is flawed. We should all want to live in a place where all kinds of people want to live. Isolating some or many of them is selfish. One will hear similar arguments about gay marriage. “I don’t care if people are gay. I just don’t want to live in a place that being gay is considered normal and a law that recognizes gay marriage does just that”. This argument is also abhorrent. We should all want to live in a place that gives every non-criminal or non-danger to society a comfortable place to exist. I feel the same way about this genre of argument regarding guns.
The only thing that I will say about the gun debate in our country is that it has become a very partisan issue and that precludes meaningful discussion. I don’t think there is any one event that would sway an ardent gun advocate to the other side of the debate, lest they change ideology and vice versa. More mass shootings turn into arguments for more guns and just as passionately against guns.
I will just say that owning a gun is a serious halachic issue, particularly if one has children in the home and must be discussed with a halachic authority or independently researched.
People will ask: How does God allow senseless murders? Why do tragedies like this happen?
There is only answer that is acceptable. “We don’t know.” Any moron who says anything other than “we don’t know” needs to be stopped. Please.
ומחה ה’ דמעה מעל כל פנים