Evil has, once again, reared its ugly head.
On Tuesday, May 24, a monstrous 18-year-old entered a Texas elementary school classroom and opened fire, killing 19 children and two teachers, just two days before their summer vacation.
How do parents live on after the murder of their precious child? How do students go back to school where they witnessed such unfathomable horrors? And how does a nation — still reeling from a mass shooting, just over a week ago, that cost the lives of 10 innocent people — recover from such a massacre?
The answers, I do not know. But here are five brief thoughts that, I hope, will contribute to our collective soul-searching and healing:
1. Zero Tolerance for ANY Violence
It is no secret that we live in a world filled with negative and even, violent, words and actions. With impulsivity, a loose finger on our computer’s mouse, and with the pathetic excuse of “freedom of speech”, so many of us spread their venom on all sorts of public forums and social media outlets.
But not every thought ought to be translated into words. Not every comment is worthy of our reaction. And not every tweet ought to be published or retweeted. For in the race to respond, our swirl of emotions can create ripples of violence. And in the heat of disagreements, pathways of destruction are oftentimes paved. In the words of Margaret Thatcher: “Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. Watch your character for it becomes your destiny.”
We must, therefore, incorporate a zero-tolerance policy toward any type of violence, including any type of condescending language, all sorts of abuses, and yes, even violent video games and movies that contaminate the minds and souls of our children.
2. Beyond The “Gun Control” Debates
This horrific massacre has reignited political debates of old on “gun control” and “gun ownership.” Limiting access to guns may be an imperative idea, but after all said and done, what will matter most is not which weapons we hold in our closets, but which divine and moral values we hold in our hearts.
For, after all, do any of us fear being murdered by a God-fearing and decent person? I doubt it. Then, shouldn’t we hold discussions, predominantly, on character and soul development and the teaching of right and wrong?
The festival of Shavuot will be celebrated in just ten days (Eve of June 4 – Eve of June 6) in which we will be celebrating the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, 3334 years ago. There, we asserted our faith in our Creator and our commitment to His commandments.
In preparation for this holiday, and in light of this massacre, let us recommit ourselves to the Divine values and ethics to which we subscribed over three millenniums ago. And let us teach our children to be moral people, not only for fear of the police or for the worry of public disapproval, but because there is a God that sees, hears and cares about everything we do.
3. Absolute evil exists, and it must be fought, with unwavering determination.
Too often, evil is excused in the name of “moral equivalence” or in the context of “your truth” versus “my truth.” For example, just recently, a U.S. politician publicly equated U.S. and Israeli “atrocities” with those of Hamas and the Taliban!
This must stop. It is high time we recognize evil for what it is, and we stand united against it, with defiance and conviction (of course, in a legal and dignified way) until it is eradicated from all publications and institutions that enable its existence. As King David so poignantly writes in his book of Psalms (97:10): “Those who love God and goodness, hate evil.”
And let us heed the words of Albert Einstein, who warned us that “the world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
4. Life Is Too Precious To Waste It On Trivialities:
Here’s a question: If today was your last day on earth, what would you do?
As I read about this massacre with a shattered heart, I suddenly realized that this question is not as far-fetched as it sounds. We really have no control over the timing of our death. Yet, we do have control over our lives. And when we encounter death, we suddenly realize how vulnerable we are and how we, therefore, ought to make the best of every moment we live, every relationship we have and every opportunity we have.
In 2005, in his commencement address at Stanford University, Steve Jobs revealed that ever since the age of 17, he “would look at himself in the mirror every morning and ask himself: If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
Indeed, every day is filled with infinite treasures that will never return. Every moment is filled with opportunities that beg to be actualized. Every hour holds within it blessings that impatiently wait to be unleashed. Yet, too many times, we are so shackled by the troubles of our past or the fears of our future that we become complacent, and forget that today may just be our last day.
So why waste it on trivialities and not actualize the call, and purpose, of our soul?
5. Choose Life!
When encountering death and other life challenges, we are faced with two options: Sink or swim. Will we sink and succumb to despair, or will we swim forward and respond to death with even more life; to despair with even more hope; to darkness with even more light?
Judaism has always chosen the latter. “Choose life,” Moses commanded us, in the name of G-d shortly before his passing, “so that you and your children may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
Throughout our history, we responded to every calamity with a burst of life and an expansion that eventually lifted us above our hardships, as difficult as they may have been. Similarly, and following this horrific massacre, we too must do everything in our power to rebuild and restore ourselves and our communities.
For every one of those 21 precious lives that were taken away from us, we must respond by impacting at least 21 lives, with acts of goodness and kindness — from giving charity to smiling more; from doing a stranger a favor to repairing a broken relationship; from setting aside times to nurture our soul to lending a helping hand. Indeed, we must fill the great vacuum that these 19 children and two adults have left in our world with light.
These precious individuals will then not have died in vain and they will continue to live on and on, in our minds, in our hearts and most importantly, in our actions.
And then, our broken world will surely begin to heal, until we will usher in the ultimate redemption when evil shall exist no more. Amen. JN