— by Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell
Last weekend, over 1,000 places of worship, churches, synagogues, temples and mosques in almost every state marked Gun Violence Prevention Shabbat. Each week, we turn to the Torah for messages about how to live. Last week’s Torah portion VaYikra teaches us that every individual is a microcosm of God’s sacred universe, and that together, we can create holy community. Gun violence destroys our community’s sanctity.
This Sunday, we can honor all victims of gun violence by welcoming to our area a group of twenty-six cyclists from Newton, Connecticut. Newton is the home of the Sandy Hook Elementary School where Adam Lanza slew 20 children, 7 staff and his mother with a Bushmaster XM15-E2S and a Glock 20SF. Congregation Beth Or in Ambler is the only stop in Pennsylvania which these courageous cyclists will be making on their way from Sandy Hook to Washington, DC. They hope to meet legislators in our capital to ask them to support common sense legislation to reduce gun violence.
How widespread is gun violence in our America?
According to The Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence,
- On average, 32 Americans are murdered with guns every day and 140 are treated for a gun assault in an emergency room.
- The U.S. firearm homicide rate is 20 times higher than the combined rates of 22 countries that are our peers in wealth and population.
- American children die by guns 11 times as often as children in other high-income countries.The opening verse of this portion sets the tone for our work to end gun violence. “God called to Moses…” God called to Moses, and now, God calls to us: to listen to the cries of families robbed of their loved ones because of gun violence, to witness the heartache that gun violence wreaks throughout our society, and to take action to end this scourge, this terrible blight on our humanity.By enforcing background checks on those who purchase firearms, we can reduce gun violence. By banning high capacity ammunition clips, we can reduce gun violence. By ridding our streets of assault weapons and semi-automatic weapons, we can reduce gun violence. By joining together with others to sustain safe communities where children and adults can live without fear, we can reduce gun violence.
In just a few weeks, we will gather around seder tables and enumerate the plagues that were visited upon the Egyptian people before Pharaoh would release the Israelites from bondage. These plagues may reflect Pharaoh’s inability to see the essential humanity of the thousands who labored, like animals, for his benefit. Gun violence is a modern plague that robs us of our humanity. When we turn our back on this problem, we become like Pharaoh, deaf to our brothers’ cries, blind to our sisters’ suffering.
On this Shabbat, we celebrate the new month of Nisan, called the “king of months” because it is the month in which we celebrate Passover and our redemption from slavery. We begin this month with a unique blessing:
Blessed are You, our God, Soul of the world, whose world lacks nothing. You create a rich diversity of creatures and trees that delight human beings.
May we be blessed to see that our world lacks nothing except the will to end the plague of gun violence. Judaism teaches whoever who saves even one life saves a world. When we help one individual put down a lethal weapon, we save both the life of the one who would use the gun and the life of the potential victim.
As we begin a new book of the Torah and welcome the new month of Nisan, our tradition points us towards holiness.
On this Shabbat of new beginnings, we, like Moses, must answer God’s call.
Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell [email protected] is the editor of The Open Door: A Passover Haggadah and Chapters of the Heart : Jewish Women Sharing the Torah of Our Lives. She is scholar in residence at Washington Hebrew Congregation.