‘Do something with all this mess that was left here’

Students returned to their Parkland, Florida High School two weeks after the destruction.  Israeli trauma-survival specialists brought some advice.  But the voices of the students remained revealing.  “There is no rule book or guidelines to follow” one continued, “we’re all just guessing in the dark here.”

Experts describe how people are wired to get out of the way of threats. “Even if the lion is not in front of you or the shooter is not in the building” a psychologist suggests “when you walk away your body is still alert.“  Even after your body calms down, it involuntarily reacts when triggered by a fire drill many months and even years later. 

What about the rest of us who did not survive the terror firsthand?  We have a different problem.  Our capacity to sustain attention is deficient.  As we approach the one month anniversary of the February 14th massacre – with more than 700 US schools having received copycat threats since the Parkland shooting – how shall we respond more helpfully with sustained focus and fortitude?

From among the portions of Torah we learn this Shabbat we find advice on the way of repair and resilience.  Those who survive the Golden Calf calamity come forth with redoubled intensity.  Enthusiastic to repent, the Children of Israel are exuberant in the outpouring of their contributions to build the Tabernacle.  Donating to build the Calf they had offered ‘gold earrings’ (Ex. 32:2-3).  But for the Tabernacle they brought ‘bracelets, earrings, rings, and pendants’ (Ex. 35:22) in such abundance that Moses had to ask them to curtail their generosity.  “And the people were stopped from bringing more” (Ex. 36:6).

Moreover, we find the Hebrew verb ‘brought’ (hei-vi-u, v’yavi-u) appear eight times in the passage.  Eight is the biblical number for covenant (the covenantal bris is done on the eighth day).  The people are energetically seeking to restore the covenant. 

What can rebuild faith for survivors and for cynics?  Striving for change in at least eight different arenas: law enforcement practice, weapon availability, mental healthcare, entertainment violence, social media habits, newsroom norms, schoolyard security, and faith-community responsibility.

As we learn from the Torah, we also learn from surviving students.  One reflected on the struggle to move forward on her first day back in school.  We have to ‘do something with all this mess that was left here.’ 

May their passion for doing something inspire our commitment to doing everything.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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