In the wake of the slaughter at a Pittsburgh synagogue

When we as Jews or as a people experience such a shocking event, we are required not to seek reasons and justifications, but rather to internalize the event and change our lives.

November 11, 2018 21:23
4 minute read.
A man prays at a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue

A man prays at a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue following Saturday's shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 31, 2018. (photo credit: CATHAL MCNAUGHTON/REUTERS)


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The slaughter at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh has shocked all of us. As Jews, we must ask ourselves, “What can we learn from this?” This question is an obligation of reality, especially in light of Maimonides’s comments in the Laws of Fast Days (Chapter 1, Halakha 3), where he wrote, “But if [these events] do not shake us and call us to action, but instead we say, ‘This is simply the way of the world and such things happen,’ then this is the way of cruelty…”

When we as Jews or as a people experience such a shocking event, we are required not to seek reasons and justifications, but rather to internalize the event and change our lives. We cannot go on living as if nothing has happened. An event like this has to affect our lives and lead us to a more significant and moral plane.

The first lesson that we should derive from such a slaughter is that this is not the way of the world, but the embodiment of evil. There is evil in our world that we as Jews must lead the way in opposing it. This evil is expressed in various forms and ways, and it is our job not to allow this evil to lift its ugly head, but to fight it unto oblivion. From every possible platform, at every opportunity that comes our way, we have to go out forcefully and publicly against such a phenomenon.

The second lesson stems from the culture in the United States that is based on the foundations of freedom and liberty and the feeling of personal security. This is the land of unlimited opportunities, a land in which the Jews have won social, economic and religious equality. This antisemitic slaughter struck at the very heart of American Jewry who thought that “this can’t happen here.”

The Jewish community is fraught with confusion; on the one hand, they receive recognition and broad support from the public-at-large, but on the other hand, antisemitic manifestations are increasingly more common. Our brothers and sisters in the United States need us to understand the complexity of their lives, their mixed feelings and their doubts. They need us to stand by their side at these harsh moments in solidarity, support and unity.

The third lesson is the value of responsibility for one another and the understanding of its meaning. The mutual responsibility that exists in the Jewish people is taught by the Sifra (Behukotai, Chapter 7) from the verse in Leviticus 26:37: “With no one pursuing, they shall stumble over one another as before the sword”– teaching that all of Israel are responsible for one another.

The concept of mutual responsibility is learned from a situation in which the people of Israel are found in such a depressed state that there is immediate need for caring and support.
This is not a case that calls for mere sympathy or empathy, but one where we feel the sorrow of the other on a personal level and feel that the routine of our lives has been affected by the fact that another Jew suffers. The Jews of the United States have undergone a shock in the wake of the massacre, and we as Jews of the State of Israel must implement the principle of mutual responsibility. All support that we can provide, all help that we can offer them we must do as Jews and as a state.

The last lesson is not to wait until, God forbid, a tragic event such as this occurs again to teach us the value of mutual responsibility. It can begin here and now, where, for example, we are blessed with the phenomenon of lone soldiers who come here without families to serve in the defense forces of the State of Israel.

This is an unprecedented phenomenon, and we have the obligation and merit to host and support these soldiers. When we see new immigrants, we have to ask ourselves what have we done and what are we doing so that they will feel at home. Let us adopt the lone soldiers and be a source of support for new immigrants, opening our doors wide to them. Let us truly help with the absorption of newcomers and maintain our state as one where every Jew can feel at home.

Jewish responsibility is a sense of brotherhood, a sense of mutual fate, and a mission that internalizes unity with Israel. It is a quiet but firm stance with our people, a war to abolish antisemitism, and a call to go forth and seek our brothers and sisters outside our own safe bubble. Just as Joseph set out on a journey to find his brothers (“It is my brothers that I seek,” Genesis 37:16), and as Moses “went out to his brothers” (Exodus 2:11), so, too, we need to set out on a national journey because “we are all of us the sons of the same man” (Genesis 42:11.)

The writer is a rabbi at Nitzanim Congregation in Baka, Jerusalem.

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