Tezaveh – The Scene is the Same
(Rabbi’s opinion, which may or may not reflect the management)
One year since Parkland. The scene was the same… A young man who remained under the radar, in spite of momentary erratic messages on social media that should have raised suspicions, but didn’t. A young man who recently had a loss in his family. A young man who was a loner with no friends and who loved firearms. A societal system thin on background checks and fat on permissiveness, allowing one to buy any and all guns, even before he reached the age that a person can buy a six pack of beer. Finally a breaking point and a moment of opportunity that was well planned and executed. The result: 17 dead– two teachers and 15 students, and scores injured all within a time frame of 6 minutes.
Can it be different this time? Unlike the last time, few approached this tragedy with kid gloves off to first allow for grief and sympathy. This the time the parents were mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. And this the time the students were articulate, and eloquently accused Democrats and Republicans alike for cowardice in the face of lobbying to do the needed thing. Besides demanding more extensive and far-reaching background databases, they pointed to the need for limiting or banning the purchase of semi-automatic weapons–the killing machines which have no purpose except strafing the oncoming enemy on the battlefield. It is not a defensive weapon, it is an offensive one, and most police will tell you that it has no place on the family gun shelf. Where do our freedoms legitimately end? May I own an Army tank, or an F16 if I’m a billionaire?
Here’s what we can learn from the parashas of the mishkan in Exodus. No altar or holy temple is to be made through the use of iron tools. This is because iron is used for weapons. Even the stones of the Holy Temple were fashioned by a stone cutting creature, the shamir, but not by iron tools. Knives are removed from the table before birkat Hamazon because they can be fashioned as weapons. Only the Kohain’s garments could be made of wool and linen because he was a pursuer of peace. We cannot wear this mixed fabric because it reminds us of the first homicide, when Kain killed Abel. Kain was a flax farmer and Abel a shepherd. Because the two mingled and violence resulted, we don’t wear this mingled fabric of linen and wool.
In Jewish law it is legal to have a gun for protection. Certainly the Talmud teaches ba laharog otzcha ku ve ketal oto, if someone comes to kill, you certainly may kill him first. But it also teaches restraint. It is one thing if a thief comes into your house at night. In such a situation, you have the right to kill since he knows you’ll be home. If one kills a thief who breaks into your house in the daytime, however, when he thought you’d be out, you stand trial. In the long run, we cannot kill indiscriminately. This month, before Purim, we read the scripture that tells us to “kill all of Amalek.” But in the actual story of the Megillath Esther, there is no indiscriminate mayhem. Only those threatening the Jewish people are whom we single out to eliminate. All others must be left alone, for their lives are precious. Why was it that the Holy Temple could not be built by King David? Because he had too much blood on his hands.
Battle and violence are sometime necessary to ward off enemies. A case can be made for owning a firearm for protection. But automatic weapons are superfluous in a civil society. And in places which are supposed to be sanctuaries, schools and houses of worship, such violence is obscene. The reach of the carnage is no longer distant and second-hand. The daughter-in-law of my first cousin had her jaw shattered by the Las Vegas shooter. Long-time ENJC congregants of years past, the Guttenbergs, lost their precious grandchild at Parkland last year. A mentally unhinged man, armed (legally) to the teeth, took 11 lives in a Pittsburgh synagogue. Things are no longer just theoretical and constitutionally complex. Gunfire may soon be coming to a theater near us, and it will be the fault of those sworn to make our society safe if they do not do something to prevent tragedy.
I am a believer in the Second Amendment and have enjoyed a shooting range from time to time. Someday, I may take the needed training to own a pistol. Personal safety is a right. But the Second Amendment mentions the need for firearms to be regulated. I am proud of the fact that safety laws of NY State are some of the most restrictive. I am in favor or extending the waiting period so that authorities can do a more thorough check of individuals, including their social media pages. It is important that background checks be required at gun shows. A national database of mentally unstable individuals is desperately needed. I am in favor of a “red flag bill” that gives a judge the authority to restrict gun ownership and require previously owned firearms to be surrendered, should a person show instability and aggression towards himself or towards others. It is high time we tighten our gun safety laws and do so regionally and nationally. A gun is more dangerous than a car. It should be more regulated, not less.