• May 01, 2013

    This has been a trying week for our souls.  The events of the past seven days continue to gnaw at each of us.  How do we make sense of it?  Where do we find some consolation, some inspiration?  Let me attempt to review some of the events and shed some perspective.

    The date was April 16, 1947.  The scene was Texas City, a small community located on the Gulf of Mexico.  A small fire was burning on board one of the freight carrying ships in the harbor.  As a small crowd of people gathered to view the scene, a horrific explosion ensued.  600 people died.  5,000 people were injured.  26 of the town’s 27 firefighters were killed in the inferno.  The culprit--ammonium nitrate--a fertilizer. . .51,502 bags of the fertilizer were being transported on the ship.

    Flash forward to this past Wednesday evening, April 17, 2013 in West, Texas.  A tremendous blast shook a community centered around the local fertilizer plant.  Fifty homes were decimated.  A small Czech town of 2800 people will never be the same.  14 people are dead;  200 are injured.   Most of those who lost their lives were first responders.  The culprit-- ammonium nitrate—fertilizer. . .a highly combustible material used in the production of bombs as well as fertilizer.

    Apparently, the last time OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) inspected the plant was 1985!  Texas’ state attorney general was quoted last year when addressing another issue as saying, “I go into the office in the morning, I sue Barack Obama, and then I go home.”

    For the past ten days we have been following the gruesome story that defined life in Kaufman County.  We knew the District Attorney, his wife, and an assistant District Attorney were all recently murdered.  Who would have done such a thing?  Why would someone have chosen such a tactic?  It took a few agonizingly long days but the authorities would be able to bring closure to the case with an astounding revelation this past week.  The wife of the former Justice of Peace confessed to her involvement in all three shootings and implicated her husband in the murders!  

    Boston, Massachusetts was enjoying a typical Patriots Day--April 15, 2013.  It was a local holiday.  Each of the local professional sports teams was playing.  The focus of the day’s events was the running of the 116th Boston Marathon--the oldest yearly marathon in the world.  Suddenly, as the runners were crossing the finish line 4 hours after the start time, two explosions rocked the marathon, killing and injuring bystanders and setting the world’s leader of freedom into a lockdown position.

    The bedroom community of Watertown, Massachusetts was awakened on Thursday evening to more than 200 rounds of gunfire as an exchange between police and the apparent Boston Marathon bomber broke out on a quiet local street.  One of the two suspects was killed in the encounter.  As Kabbalat Shabbat services began on Friday night, the second of the two suspects (brothers) was apprehended and an extraordinary sigh of relief descended upon a city and country.

    Immediately, we were compelled to remember Newtown, Aurora, Columbine, the Wisconsin Mall, the LA man hunt, the Oklahoma City bombing.  There are so many more.  They were all related.  They all involved guns.  They all involved the use of live ammunition amongst a law-abiding citizenry.

    For me the low point of this week occurred in Washington, DC on Friday morning when the United States Senate failed to pass a bill that would moderately restrict the use of guns in this country.  The bill did not prohibit the use of guns; it did not challenge the second amendment.  It simply attempted to address what the overwhelming number of Americans want--gun reform.  Unfortunately, the National Rifle Association had a different agenda, as is usually the case.  Today, following the harrowing events that have wracked such havoc on our country, our hands remain tied to the whims of the NRA as we attempt to control the use of assault weapons.  

    This week’s Torah portion includes the sedra of Kedoshim.  This Torah portion makes up the core of what is referred to as the Holiness Code.  Located in the middle of the book of Leviticus, the middle book of the Torah, it is as if we are reminded that this Holiness Code represents the very core of what the Torah is designed to teach us.  

    Embedded in the text of Kedoshim is an array of principles that accompany the Ten Commandments, having given rise to the world’s greatest expression of ethical guidelines.   Among them is the phrase that Rabbi Akiba suggested is the most central principle of the entire Torah.  Leviticus 19:18 instructs us, “V’ahavta l’rayakha kamokha--You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  It is that simple and yet, that difficult.  Can we learn to love one another?  Can we learn to respect one another?  Can we learn to curb our own biases for the betterment of our world?

    If we are to love one another, first we must learn to love ourselves.   We need parents, who accept their responsibility as the most important educators of their children, to be diligent with their task.  Children are entitled to be raised in a home filled with love and a sense of security.  They  need a nurturing environment to develop a healthy sense of self.  Only when we respect ourselves can we begin to engage with the world around us in a healthy manner.

    After watching the events of Boston unfold, one of the constant themes we viewed was the ability of all government agencies to work together.  Local, state and national authorities all recognized the need to pull together, to see beyond differences and address the very real threat before the public.  It was a masterful exposé of what we can accomplish when we share our resources.  It was inspiring.

    Unfortunately, too often our arrogance gets the best of us.  We can’t see each other as an individual.  We only see stereotypes.  We are incapable of living with nuance.  We see rich or poor, indigenous or immigrant, Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, Reform, Conservative or Orthodox, secularist or religious.  It is the arrogance of attitude that compels us to suggest we don’t need oversight to prevent normal people from cutting corners and endangering the lives of innocent people.  It is the arrogance of too many that prevents us from reaching out to each other, to secure common ground to address the issues that continue to tie the hands of our country’s leaders and render our political system inept.  It is the arrogance that comes with our willingness to communicate only with those who think like us, speak like us, vote like us, and even look like us.  That has never been the Jewish way.   

    May the words of this morning’s sedra--“V’ahavta l’rayakha kamokha” remind each of us that if we continue to be silent observers of our world we will have no one but ourselves to blame for the misfortune that continues to visit us.  Let us use the inspiring response of Boston to usher in a new period of shared venture among us.  Let us see beyond our differences and rally around our commonalities.  Let us use the ethical principles defined by our Torah as our guiding light--our “Or L’golah.”