Pirke Avot 4:7—Rabbi Tzaddok said: Do not separate yourself from the community. Do not act as a lawyer (in judgment). Do not make the Torah into a crown with which to aggrandize yourself or a spade with which to dig. So too did Hillel state: ‘He who uses the crown [of Torah] will pass on’. From this you may learn that anyone who derives benefit from words of Torah takes his life from the world.”
November 9, 2018
1 Kislev 5779
Shabbat Toldot Genesis 25:19-28:9
More than 150 people gathered in our sanctuary last night. Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center (RAC), was here to speak to us, but we began with a service of remembering and healing. People came from around the community to join the members of our own Jewish community. I think our experience mirrored what took place in nearly every Jewish community. Our friends and neighbors ached with us and hurt with us and grieved with us. Yet, even as we read the names of those murdered in Pittsburgh and invited representatives of so many other communities who have been the victims of hate to light candles, Thousand Oaks and the 12 dead in the Borderline Bar were right there in front us.
Some say it is too soon to start talking about finding a way to control the guns and violence, but how can it be too soon when you only had about 12 days between one mass killing and the next. How long do you wait? We all know that this will happen again whether it is in another 12 days or 20 or 40. The time is now.
Rabbi Pesner talked about his own journey to becoming a fighter for social justice. He talked about the RAC’s role in working on social justice issues. He also mentioned that it is critical for people of faith to invest in building relationships with each other because it is the faith communities that will eventually effect change. Building these relationships has been a part of my journey. Whether it is Lexington, Indianapolis, or Canton, I have reached out to the clergy and faith communities. In Canton, clergy study together and get to know each other so that when the moment comes to act, we can coalesce. Muslims, Christians, Catholics, Baha’I, Native Americans, we know each other. We have built Habitat houses together. We have packed Thanksgiving Baskets together. We have raised our voices for immigrants together. Now is the time to fight for gun control laws together. There will be people in every one of our congregations that resist. “We are trying to take away their guns,” they will say. “We are denying their Second Amendment rights,” they will say. “No, we aren’t,” I will respond (we need to respond.) I will add the words: Pittsburgh, Sutherland, Parkland, Shady Hook, Charleston, Thousand Oaks, Las Vegas, Orlando, Virginia Tech, San Bernardino, Columbine, Aurora…. Private citizens don’t need AR-15s. Mentally ill people shouldn’t be sold guns. We need background checks and dare I say—gun registration.
Don’t accuse me of being political. Gun control shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but, I dare say, the NRA has made it one. It is a moral issue. It is a human rights’ issue. It is an issue of life and death. There are as many guns in this country as there are people. Let’s find a way to make you and me safer so that when I go to the movies or a bar or a concert or synagogue, I don’t have to worry about being shot to death.
So, I ask you and I ask our Congress and President, is it too soon? Will the leader of the Senate just say that any gun control bill is dead on arrival when it comes from the House? Will our President remember the promises he made to the parents of the Parkland students murdered at school? Will the faith leaders in this country have moral courage and background to come together to say, “Enough is Enough!” Or will we just send more thoughts and prayers and wait until we wake up to the news of the next shooting and sigh, “Here we go again.”
Several times last night, Rabbi Pesner quoted the prophet Micah—do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. The prophet Micah gave us the right message for Tikkun Olam, but I need to add to this that walking humbly is not what we can afford right now. Our voices need to be a stampede toward justice for those who have been murdered and a possibility for us to live in a better world.
When you light your Shabbat candles this evening, light one and let its light ask you, “What will you do to make this a better and safer world?” Light the other candle and let its light show you the way.
Rabbi Jon Adland