Sunday, July 29, 2012

Devarim

This coming Shabbat is called Black Shabbat.  It receives this name because of its proximity to Tisha B’Av, the fast day marking the destruction of the first and second Temples.  These were considered the greatest of Jewish tragedies (until the Holocaust occurred) and so the Sabbath preceding the Ninth of Av takes on a mournful tone.  This year however Shabbat is darkened for two additional reasons.

This evening the Olympics will open in London.  While this is usually cause for great celebration and excitement, this year it is colored by sadness.  40 years ago at the 1972 Olympics in Munich 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by Palestinian terrorists.  The International Olympic Committee refuses to observe even a moment of silence at the game’s opening ceremony to mark this yahrtzeit. 

Noted historian Deborah Lipstadt writes: “Never before or since were athletes murdered at the Games. Never before or since were the Games used by terrorists for their evil purposes. Never before or since were those who came to participate in a sports competition murdered for who they were and where they came from.  The proper place to acknowledge such a tragedy is not in a so-called spontaneous moment in front of 100 people, but in a purposeful action by the entire Olympic ‘family.’”  (I have posted more of Lipstadt’s insights on my blog.)  The failure of the IOC to honor the memories of those murdered suggests that they forgive murder for political ends.

Last Shabbat 12 Americans were killed and nearly 60 injured at a Colorado movie theatre.  It is a tragic and dark day when an apparently intelligent man turns to evil ends.  Little can be offered as to why he would commit such a heinous crime.  Why would a promising young PhD student murder innocent people?  All agree that it was an unspeakable act.

Many have also used this occasion to speak about gun control.  Although I fail to understand why anyone, except for the military and law enforcement, needs to own any weapons, I recognize Americans’ right to bear arms.  This right does not however need to be an absolute right.  Rights can be limited and framed without undermining their fundamental value.  Still waiting periods and forbidding the purchase of automatic weapons would not have deterred this shooter.  It might have saved more lives.  But an intelligent, patient, methodical man bent on destruction can inflict great harm.  More laws will not prevent such evil acts.  They might only make them less likely.

Let’s be honest.  Limiting the sale of automatic weapons, armor piercing bullets, explosives and the like minimize risks.  They do not eliminate them.  Gun control laws are sensible.  But dangers can never entirely be prevented.  The more important discussion is how do we better train the human spirit to do good and never harm.  Goodness is not a matter of intelligence.  It is a matter of training the spirit.

It has been a sad week.  First for the failure of others to acknowledge the pain and suffering committed against our people 40 years ago.  Second for the horrible loss of life in our own country and for the debate that seems tragically out of step with the more fundamental problem.  Goodness is something learned.  It is something taught.  Evil cannot simply be legislated against.  Goodness must be inculcated each and every day.

This Shabbat is called the Black Shabbat.  It is also called Shabbat Hazon, the Sabbath of vision.  It receives this name because of its Haftarah.  The prophet Isaiah is chanted as a rebuke not only against the ancient Israelites but against us.  The rabbis believed that we were to blame for our own destruction and in particular the destruction of the ancient Temples.  Isaiah offers this vision: “Wash yourselves clean; put your evil doings away from My sight.  Cease to do evil; learn to do good.  Devote yourselves to justice; aid the wronged.  Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow.  Come, let us reach an understanding, declares the Lord.”

May we come to such an understanding.

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