Anti-Semitism has, once again, reared its ugly head.
Yesterday, as the congregants of Chabad of Poway united together to celebrate the last day of Passover, an evil gunman, in a green army-style vest armed with a semi-automatic weapon, burst in and began shooting.
Lori Gilbert-Kaye, who had come to services to mourn her mother, was murdered when she jumped in front of the rabbi, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, whose hands were pierced by gunfire. An 8-year-old girl was hit with shrapnel in the face and leg. And a heroic man was wounded ushering children to safety.
Our shattered hearts cannot contain the pain. “Sometimes, God is beyond understanding,” my mentor, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz once shared with me. Still, within every tragedy, there is a lesson to be drawn. And while we cannot reason and understand, we can – and must – learn and respond.
And so, here are five pressing lessons:
1. “We must do our best, and G-d will do the rest.” – Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
My dear mentor, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, gave me this advice years ago, when he was explaining to me that G-d only blesses those who work actively to achieve His blessings. “We can’t wait passively for G-d to help us,” he stated firmly. “We must first do our best, and G-d will then do the rest.”
As the Rabbi of a large and vibrant congregation in Scottsdale, Arizona, his words are left ringing in my ears, today, more than ever. For, unfortunately, gone are the days in which houses of worship could be left under the watch of G-d alone. In today’s world, it seems like G-d needs us “to do our best” to protect ourselves too.
It is thus incumbent for people of all faiths to assess and meet their security needs to ensure that their respective houses of worship are well protected, not just by the grace of G-d but also by His able men and women of service too.
Let us also appeal to governing bodies of all cities and states to do everything in their power to support and empower their constituents whose sole desire is to pray in a safe and secure environment.
2. “Those who love G-d, and goodness, must hate evil.” – King David, Book of Psalms, 97:10
It is about time we stop offering excuses for evil perpetrators. Evil is not a relative force; evil is absolute. It has no justification. And it must be treated as such (of course in a legal and dignified way).
Too often, we rush to justify – or, at least, explain – why evil happens. “It’s not their fault,” someone told me the other day. “These gunmen are brainwashed, that’s all.” But if it isn’t ‘their fault’, then whose fault is it? Is it the fault of the innocent victims?
In the wise words of King David: “Those who love G-d, and goodness, hate evil” (Psalms 97:10). Indeed, to know good, means that we must also be able to know, recognize, and hate evil. For if we cannot do so, with utmost clarity, how will we ever be able to stand up to it to ensure that good ultimately triumphs?
3. “If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under G-d, then we will be a nation gone under.” – Ronald Reagan
It is no secret that we live in tumultuous and divisive times. Our status as “ONE” nation under G-d is menaced by increasing discords, of all sorts.
Yet, we ought to remember that the health and success of our society’s depends on one essential pillar: Respecting each other for who we are: people of all kinds, who were created in the image of G-d. For, as Ronald Reagan stated so poignantly: “If we ever forget that we are one nation under god then we will be a nation gone under.”
This doesn’t mean that we cannot disagree, but we ought to do so without becoming disagreeable. We can battle ideas; but we cannot battle people. Our minds can carry differences of opinions; but only if our hearts are united as one.
4. “Watch your words for they become your actions.” – Margaret Thatcher
“Tell me what your words are,” the sages of the Jewish Talmud teach, “and I will tell you who you are.”
How true. Our words mold us. They fuel our atmosphere with ‘energy.’ And they are a deep and accurate reflection of our inner character.
It is no secret that we live in a world filled with negative, and even, violent, speech. With impulsivity and a loose finger on their computer’s mouse, so many feel compelled to spread their reaction to every story under the sun on all sorts of social media outlets. But we ought to remember that not every Facebook post is worthy of our likes, pokes, and comments. Not every Tweet is worthy of our re-tweet. And not every Snapchat and text are they worthy of our response.
For in the race to speak back, we often forget to think. In the urge to reply, our swirl of emotions can create ripples of violence. And in the heat of disagreements, pathways of destruction are oftentimes paved.
Margaret Thatcher, the famed British icon, once wrote: “Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. Watch your character for it becomes your destiny.”
Let us therefore commit to only uttering positive words that will lead our world to a destiny of peace and harmony.
5. “Choose life!” – G-d, Deuteronomy 30:19
Amidst the terror of this horrific shooting, a fascinating juxtaposition appeared:
Here stood a group of Jewish worshippers who were celebrating Jewish life, and Passover, the festival of freedom. There, a world apart, stood their callous murderer, determined to obliterate freedom, spew evil, havoc, and destruction.
Although Moses commanded us to “choose life, so that you and your children may live,” (Deuteronomy, 30:19), he chose carnage and annihilation.
Indeed, the sanctity and celebration of life that we cherish so deeply disturbs those who hate it so fervently.
The United States Government will surely do what it can to secure our brethren in Poway, California, in North America, and across the world. But our response must be more personal; it must speak to the values that fill our souls. Where there is evil and darkness, we must create goodness and light. We must respond to acts of antisemitism and terror with actions that create peace and joy for all.
This is quiet heroism — there are no flamboyant shows, no dramatic gestures that capture attention. It is not enough to focus on that which we are fighting against; we must also know that which we are fighting for. I am not so naïve as to believe that good deeds alone will stop this evil. But we can shape the world — the world in which we live — by our actions.
Hence, after witnessing such evil, our response must also be to increase our deeds of holiness and goodness, from prayer to charity, from repairing a broken relationship to lending a helping hand.
Without a doubt, goodness, freedom, and life, will then ultimately prevail.