Five days have passed since we awoke to the terrible and heart wrenching news from Las Vegas. As the days pass and we learn more about the victims, our hearts break even more. Fifty-eight beautiful souls are no longer among us. Fifty-eight families, now broken forever, know painfully just how fragile life can be.
We are two days into the Festival of Sukkot. We build and decorate a sukkah, a temporary hut in which we eat our meals, hang out, and even sleep. We are also painfully aware that a sukkah is very fragile. A strong wind can knock it over; a steady rain will saturate all that is inside.
It is not hard to connect the fragility of life to the fragility of a sukkah this week. However, when something fragile breaks we act in response. If a sukkah is knocked down, we don’t just look at it; we work together to rebuild it. When lives are lost in another senseless act of gun violence, we don’t just offer “thoughts and prayers;” we act. On Sunday, heroic first responders saved lives while also putting themselves in danger. Today we must act to put public safety at the forefront.
I am not alone in feeling that without action “thoughts and prayers” are mostly empty. Yes, prayer does provide some healing and hope to those who are broken and hurt, it does not generate change. People do.
For the past few days a small group of clergy representing faith different traditions has been working on a statement that will be widely disseminated shortly, calling our community to come together to begin a thoughtful, reasonable conversation. We can talk about gun safety measures that gun manufacturers can implement in order to reduce the 33,000 deaths each year by gun violence in America without infringing on the Constitution’s Second Amendment. We can have a conversation about access to mental health services and restrictions on sales to the mentally ill that might help prevent more guns from getting into the hands of those who are not mentally stable enough to use them safely. We can have a conversation about how to mitigate gang violence, domestic violence, and other forms of violence that can escalate quickly and often times result in death or injury by a gun.
The Book of Ecclesiastes, which we read during Sukkot teaches us, “There is a time for speaking and a time for keeping silent.” It is time to speak up because, to paraphrase the words of Hillel, “if not now, when?”
Last week on Yom Kippur we read these powerful words: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today. I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your offspring may live (Deuteronomy 30:19)
We must choose life. The time to speak up is now. Silence, apathy, and acquiescence are not options.
To that end, on Wednesday evening November 1, at a location still to be determined, come together for a South Bay interfaith community conversation with people representing different views and perspectives to see if we can actually find some common ground. I do hope and pray that we can agree on one thing: life is sacred and precious, and each life taken by the hands of another person is an affront to God.
During this difficult week, I hope and pray that the beauty of the Festival of Sukkot will bring a measure of comfort and peace to you this Shabbat.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Charles Briskin