Parsha Tazria-Metzora April 28, 2007 10 Iyar 5767 Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum
Shabbat Shalom. Shalom Aleichem. Aleichem Shalom. In these simple words with which we greet each other every week, there is a world of meaning. Can we ever say the word Shalom too much? What does the word Shalom actually mean? It is one word which has 4 meanings: hello, goodbye, peace, and it is one of G-d’s names. After the tragic events of the past two weeks, one of them was in a neighboring community, in Virginia, only 300 miles from Annapolis, we are reminded that there is not enough Shalom in this world.
My fellow author and acquaintance Roy S. Neuberger wrote in his recent book entitled: Worldstorm: Finding Meaning and Direction Amidst today's World Crisis that "global events rapidly unfolding around us, are a source of alarm and confusion to many. Conflict, hatred and violence ...have become the order of the day." Neuberger asks: "how can we navigate through the storm of this world and how will the storm end?" He refers to G-d and the Bible as a viable solution throughout his interesting book.
The media will always take advantage of any sensational event, particularly evil occasions, from every conceivable angle, interviewing family members, survivors and witnesses. Psychiatrists and medical professionals will analyze the disturbed mind and within months, we will surely see books and movies gruesomely replaying the campus terror. The debate over gun control will continue in all political venues, great speeches, but little action. What will be learned from this latest act of mass murder that took place in our country? What is it about our society that allows for such horror and violence?
As Americans, many of us live in constant fear of such random acts of violence. Parents and grandparents worry on a daily basis for their children and grandchildren as they go to schools assuming they are safe and protected from outside dangers. The media is constantly reinforcing these concerns, giving airtime to events that remind us that we are living in a world where there are no absolutes.
Whom can we blame for what has happened? Was it the fault of the school administrators for not acknowledging the danger posed by one of their students? Was it university security for not being better prepared? Were negligent gun control laws responsible for making guns too easily available? Was the South Korean Cho Seung family guilty for not doing more to help their son? Or those fellow students who ignored his cries or just dismissed him as an annoyance? And what about those students who harassed him with mocking remarks about his accent? In one of Cho Seung notes, he expressed deep anger at the arrogant and condescending attitudes of people in this country towards him as an immigrant.
But, my dear friends, who is really to blame? Unfortunately, no blame will bring back those young students whose bright futures were cut off in their prime. Nor will it bring back the 5 dedicated professors, one being a courageous Israeli Holocaust survivor who saved twenty students with his heroic act of self-sacrifice. To paraphrase the words of one of our great Jewish kings, King Solomon in his book called Ecclesiastes, "There is a time for accusation and a time for healing."
Our Sages suggest that in times of sorrow and loss, we should look introspectively to see how societal circumstances might effect us individually and collectively as free citizens. We pledge that America is "One nation under G-d, indivisible with liberty and justice for all." Each person’s actions affects everyone else. Whether we knew anyone personally involved in this tragedy or not, the reality is that our lives have been changed. So what can we do about having this change thrust upon us? What can we do to reverse the tide of evil? How can we make a difference?"
Let’s first consider what role violence plays in our society and our world. As much as what happened in Virginia and Oklahoma is horrible, let’s take a closer look at what else happens almost weekly in this country. A colleague on mine, Rabbi Mark Grennspan sent me some interesting facts that he thought would be of concern to our fellow congregants:
#1. In federal fiscal year 2004, an estimated 3 million children were alleged to have been abused or neglected and received investigations or assessments by state and local child protective services agencies. Approximately 872,000 children were determined to be victims of child maltreatment (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2006). According to the Children's Defense Fund and National Center for Health Statistics, 3,012 children and teens were killed in a single year by gunfire in the United States. That’s one child every three hours; eight children every day; and more than 50 children every week. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the rate of firearms deaths among children under age 15 is almost 12 times higher in the US than in 14 other modern industrialized countries combined. American children are 16 times more likely to be murdered with a gun, 11 times more likely to commit suicide with a gun, and 9 times more likely to die in a firearm accident than children in these other countries. Every year, at least 4 to 5 times as many kids and teens suffer from non-fatal firearm injuries.
#2. According to U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, in the United States every year, about 1.5 million women and more than 800,000 men are raped or physically assaulted by an intimate partner. This translates into about 47 IPV assaults per 1,000 women and 32 assaults per 1,000 men. According to Survey of Massachusetts Dept. of Youth Services Children who grow up in violent homes have a 74% higher likelihood of committing criminal assaults.
#3. And what about the war in Iraq? Have we become desensitized to the killing and death in Iraq? In Iraq this past week 217 civilians were killed in one day alone! The reality is that, unfortunately, numerous countries view America today as a violent and war-like nation.
#4. Turn on television on any given night and witness dozens of homicides. The high ratings of shows like The Shield, Law and Order, and CSI attest that the majority of society actually finds these acts entertaining. The more horrific the show, the greater the viewers. And when the audience becomes more accustomed to the brutality, producers up the ante by increasing the acts of terror and morbidity to hold their market share. I recently read a statistic that the average child witnesses 32,000 murders and 40,000 attempted murders by the time they reach the age of 18 by watching these kinds of shows. These statistics should make us consider the affect that violence and terror play in our lives. Violence has become all too common and for some it is generate income. Media ratings go up when there is violence in the news. Have we become untroubled to violence? Is it any wonder that a confused person opts to console his troubled mind by playing out some fanatical act of terror?
It is not only the physical violence that is detrimental to society, but the spoken word is harmful as well. Many children were taught, Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never harm me. How incorrect! Opposite! Words hurt and penetrate deeply into one’s heart. English is an influential language –when we surrender to blasphemy and racism, we devalue our culture and ourselves. Under the pretext of freedom of speech, society has accepted common sacrilege in our everyday language; even the media sanctions offensive and racist language as entertainment.
In this week’s Torah portion Tazria -Metzora that we read today, our Torah guides us concerning inappropriate language. Our words speak volumes. The way that we communicate to one another, person to person, nation to nation, matters.
Let us use a refined vocabulary filled with words like care and love, words like hope and help. Children learn what parents, relatives and friends teach them. If we berate our children in anger, we can only expect the same from them. On the contrary, if we teach constructively to criticize in a positive and effective manner, our children will learn healthy ways to express their own feelings. Each day we end the Amidah prayer by reciting, "My G-d, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully… Open my heart to Your Torah, then my soul will pursue Your commandments. As for all those who design evil against me, speedily nullify their counsel and disrupt their plans." We continue: "Yihiyu leratzon imrei fee v’hegyon libee lefanecha, Hashem tzuri v’go’alee." "May the words of my mouth and the mediations of my heart be acceptable to You, my Rock and Redeemer." I suggest that those expressions are not just about the prayers we offer to G-d but the manner we should speak to each other, each and every day.
My dear congregants, we are in the month of Iyar, the month of healing. The Hebrew word Iyar in an acronym for the biblical words of G-d stating: "Ani Hashem Rofeacha" which means: "I am the L-d your healer." From the bottom of my heart, I wish this Kneseth Israel synagogue to be a source of comfort during these confusing times. Together, we celebrate the Shabbat, a day when we search our souls, to reflect on the world around us and gain strength from each other, so that our neshamot- our souls - are increasingly elevated. Sometimes, like today, what is shared are difficult concepts and maybe there are no comprehensive solutions that we can fully grasp, but yes, by being here today you and I are saying NO to evil. We are here to pray for a better world. Here at Kneseth Israel our souls are rejuvenated and our spirits are lifted, nonetheless. I hope and pray that we gain strength and courage and leave the synagogue feeling nurtured, comforted, loved, and, of course, feeling healed. It is written in the book of Proverbs, "Chayim v’mavat b’yad ha-lashon, "The tongue has the power of life and death." Our words can be a weapon or can be the means to bring us closer together in harmony with our fellow human being. Only you can decide which one. Let us never stop praying for and saying a most beautiful word… SHALOM! "Oseh Shalom Bimromav Hu Yaaseh Shalom Aleinu