“For these things do I weep, My eyes flow with tears” – Lamentations 1:16
These solemn words from the Book of Lamentations continue to give voice to human sorrow many centuries after they were first written. Just a couple of weeks ago, our country lowered its flag and mourned for innocent lives senselessly removed from this world at the hands of a teenage boy. We now add the names of those seventeen souls to the inexplicably long list of names that has accumulated from similar events in Orlando, Las Vegas, Newtown, and many others. It seems that just as we have begun to move on from one such tragedy, another quickly comes along to take its place. Thus, we find ourselves in a vicious cycle of violence, tragedy, consolation, and violence again.
“Because of this our hearts are sick, Because of these our eyes are dimmed” – Lamentations 5:17
The Sages of the Babylonian Talmud developed a concept known as pikuach nefesh, or the “safeguarding of life”. In their opinion, saving the life of another human being supersedes any legal restriction placed upon us as Jews. Their thinking is that the essence of the Divine message as we encounter it in the Hebrew Bible is the celebration and preservation of life. In Leviticus, we read, “You shall keep My laws and rules, so that you may live” (18:5). The prophet Ezekiel echoes a similar sentiment in saying, “I gave them My laws and taught them My rules, so that they may live” (20:11). Our sacred text seems to place life at the heart of its legal code—a concept from which 21st century America could learn a great deal.
Time and time again, we see that our own legal code in the United States has failed in its effort to safeguard human life from the trigger fingers of mass shooters. As citizens and as Jews, we have an obligation to celebrate and preserve life, and to strive for change when neither of those values reign supreme in our society. The world of redemption we seek to build and share with one another can not include a normalization of mass shootings and a desensitization to tragedy. Let us continue to cherish life and to ensure that our world is not one built from fear and paranoia, but rather a world built from love, understanding, and compassion.