I have to tell you, I am just so saddened, so angry, and so scared about the yet again, senseless deaths that we have seen in the past week. Twenty-six people were shot dead at an elementary school in suburban Connecticut; at least three people died at a mall in Oregon; weeks ago we learned of the Kansas City football player that shot his girlfriend before killing himself; and two weeks ago we read the horrific story about a man who was pushed to his death on a subways stop just a few blocks from here by a man with mental illness while others looked on, even took a picture while the train was coming. The darkness in which we live, in which we hear the news, and in which we are raising our children certainly causes us to pause. How can it be that in places that are supposed to be safe-school, movie theaters, malls, the notion of safety and security are up for grabs. Each morning I put my son on a school bus trusting in the goodness of people, not the evil that we see in existence in these shootings.
These shootings, this violence, is something that causes nightmares, restlessness, a theme of the Torah portion Miketz. In Miketz, we enter the Joseph narratives in the middle of a dark period. Joseph is still in jail and pharaoh can't sleep. Tossing and turning because of the dreams of fat cows and thin cows, thick stalks of wheat and sickly stalks of wheat, the pharaoh wants to know what these dreams mean. Looking for help he turns to his wise men. Upon hearing about the dreams, the chief cupbearer spoke up and said, "I must make mention today of my offenses. Once Pharoah was angry with his servants and placed me in custody in the house of the chief steward, together with the chief baker. We had dreams the same night and a Hebrew youth was there with us and when we told him our dreams he interpreted them for us. And as he interpreted they came to pass."
Joseph the dreamer and Pharoah, the chief of the land, certainly took the time to understand their dreams. Joseph, who started as an immature boy using his dreams to boast to his brothers, begins to, in this week's parasha, emerge as a dreamer that can actually dream for good, changing the world in the way it must be changed. In interpreting Pharoah's dream, we see that Joseph understands that one cannot only be responsible for the world when things are good but when they might be bad as well. Therefore, he teaches the pharaoh that a famine is coming after 7 years and so the people but save for those years that there won't be food aplenty.
The ability to step up to help others have the dreams worth having means that we need to identify within ourselves and others the bravery to speak about issues that are so close to us. The idea that people can buy guns on line is one HUGE piece of this problem. How can it be that it is harder to drive a car than to buy a gun? The second is in the area of mental health. What safeguards are there for people who are so distressed that they feel the only choice they have is to push someone off a subway platform or to shoot up a school. Now trust me, I am not saying this to let a shooter off of the hook, but we must wonder how can we dream about tomorrow if we can't sleep tonight?
Jordana Horn, a mother of a third grader wrote in a blog recently as a reaction to the shooting in Connecticut:
I don't want to "take my kids out of school and hug them," like about 80% of my friends on Facebook. I don't know about your kids, but my second and third graders would inevitably squirm in my arms and want to leave them.
And you know something? They -- and EVERY OTHER KID IN THIS COUNTRY -- should be able to leave the safe haven of their parents' arms without fear. Every kid in this country should be able to go to an elementary school, or a movie theater showing a Batman movie, or a mall, without getting shot by someone who decides that their own life is so ruined that he decides he has to ruin and destroy others.
I don't want to cry.
No. Instead, I want to show my children that we live in a country where people can do something to stop random violence. I want to show my children that they live in a country where they are not powerless victims, but instead are actors who can change the world for the better.
Today it became clear, yet again, that we live in a horribly broken world. I don't want to just hug my children: I want to work with them to fix what is broken in this world, whether through lobbying for gun control or better mental health care or what have you.
I want to light the Hannukah candles tonight and pray for a miracle. The miracle I'm praying for doesn't come from God. It comes from a vision of the world you want to live in, and it comes from the belief in yourself and your children that you can make that world.
Rabbi Brad Artson teaches that Hanukkah is the time to reconcile our religious observance with our moral vision, to light the world with the glow of goodness. The festival of lights is an opportunity to rededicate our hearts and minds to a consciousness of each other's needs, of our human connection, of our links to all of creation.
In our parasha, Joseph understood what it meant to be inextricably linked to one another and he Joseph put himself on the line for the sake of the nation of the time, not to save his family but to save a nation. In the beginning of Genesis, we are taught that Noah was righteous in his generation. But my challenge with Noah is that he was righteous enough to be saved, but did he do enough to warn others. Joseph on the other hand, was able to save even those that he didn't know. He was able to have and interpret the dreams that would make a difference in the world and he didn't rest until there was a change.
Today, we must find the dreamers and the actors in our time. We must speak out. We must speak up, and we must do so today. Yes, it is the time to talk about gun control. Yes, it is time to help those who have mental illness. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said: "Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible."
Tonight, I will hug the boys and hope that the safety and security in which we place them is enough.
And I will pray -- pray for the victims of these latest tragedies and hope that there are people who can dream together to make the changes that must be made. And finally, I will speak out with you so that our voices can be heard, so that everyone can sleep well tonight.