And None Shall Make Them Afraid: Gun Violence Awareness

A Facebook post from my friend and colleague Rabbi Sharon Brous on Wednesday read: "I'm under lockdown @UCLA. Apparently 2 dead, active shooter at large. Would now be a good time to talk about gun violence?"

It's an excellent question, and every time a school shooting happens - and there have been 186 since 2013 (an average of one per week), I wonder incredulously how many more deaths till we truly know that too many people have died? How long before our leaders pass common-sense laws to prevent gun violence and save lives? Communities all over the country live in fear of gun violence. That's unacceptable. We should feel secure in sending our children to school, to the movies, anywhere -- comforted by the knowledge that they're safe.

In one simple verse in this week's portion of Behukkotai, the Torah reminds us about what it should feel like when we follow the commandments of justice and liberty for all. "I will grant peace in the land and you shall lie down without fear" (Lev. 26:6).

The people will be able to live securely when the safety and security of everyone matters to the whole. When there is enough food and resources so that no one is driven to harm another based on their own sense of scarcity whether emotional or material.

This closing portion of Leviticus teaches that reward and punishment come from our obedience of, or disregard for, God's commandments. But really, I don't understand that idea to be about divine retribution or reward, I see it being more about choices that human beings can make about the nature of our lives. "Being" human leaves us free to hurt each other and God can't stop us from doing that without taking away that very freedom that makes us human. Where we have control is in the prevention of an unsafe reality. We aren't just talking about background checks and a ban on assault rifles, although that would certainly be a good place to start. The key to the Levitical call for "living without fear" is about systemic change. When employment, housing, education, and help for the mentally ill are available to all who are in need, then the choices available to people become exponentially greater.

Parashat Behukkotai impresses upon us the very real implications of our actions on the world around us. Gun violence has reached epidemic proportions in our country. Ultimately, it is our choice to continue to disassociate access to guns from gun violence, or to demand from Congress empathic action that brings peace to our land, an end to fear and an end to gun violence in America.