‘Mommy, why do people kill innocent people?’

Kids love asking questions. Childhood is filled with curiosity –kids want to know everything! The more they grow, the more inquisitive they become about the great world around them. “Why is the sky blue?” they ask, “How does a car work?”, and, of course, the much dreaded “where do babies come from?”

As adults, we have answers to most of these questions, because most of these questions are answerable. Even when we don’t know an answer, or when the answer requires more effort than we have at the moment, we can usually get away with “just because”, or “that’s just the way it is”. But we always seem to have a response.

Until we don’t.

Until an anti-Semite enters a synagogue on a peaceful Sabbath morning and murders the grandparents and great-grandparents of so many curious, inquisitive children.

Until an ex-marine enters a bar and kills college students who just wanted to enjoy some country music.

Then, they ask a question to which we have – no, to which there is – no response.

“Mommy, why do people kill innocent people?”

Silence.

“Mommy?”

Searching for an answer, frantically searching for some response to this innocent little boy with wonder in his big brown eyes who thought that the world is a safe, wonderful place – a place where people can go to synagogue without fear that they might never come home, where teens can go dancing without fear of being murdered in cold blood. A response to this little girl whose great-grandma made blessings over life in the shadow of death.

If we think we will find an answer, we are mistaken.

Because this question is not just another “why?” question.

This question is an admonition.

When our children ask about the evil in the world, they aren’t looking for an answer. They know, far better than we do, that there is no sensible response. They haven’t yet been around long enough for this world to rob them of their purity and dull their heavenly perspective. Kindness, love, gratitude, wonder, uninhibition and humanity are still natural to them, to these old souls in new bodies.

Love is inborn. Hate is learned.

When they ask “Mommy, why do people kill innocent people?”, it is not a question – it is a challenge. What we should be hearing is “What are you doing to stop it?”

What are we doing to stop the madness that has engulfed our society? What are we doing to remove hate from our hearts, from our homes? What are we doing to be a beacon of love, respect, decency, kindness, and goodness; a small candle that banishes so much darkness?

What are we doing to ensure that we never come to think this is normal, that mass shootings are a part of life, that it is okay for people to threaten, harass, or harm those they don’t agree with?

And this challenge can’t be resolved with words, protests, condemnations, or finger-pointing.

The only response to this challenge is for our tired eyes to grow a bit wider, to borrow some of the wonder and innocence that overflows from our children’s challenge itself, so that we, too, may respond to each shooting not with apathy, and not even with sympathy, but with surprised hurt. To react to what have become common acts of evil with shock that this world is still not as wonderful as it can be. With crushing disappointment in a society where the absence of valor, dignity, maturity, civility, and respect has created a vacuum in which an atmosphere of distrust, anger, and hate can flourish. To have the wind knocked out of us anew no matter how often stories of assault, murder, or rape dominate our news feed. To maintain a youthful belief in the goodness of humanity which simply cannot accommodate people killing innocent people. To, instead of introducing our children to a grown-up world of numb despair, humbly allow them to introduce us to their world of hope and wonder.

And to act on it.

To be the change we see in the world.

To respond to mass shootings by bringing crowds of people to life, one smile, word of encouragement, and compliment at a time. To react to acts of evil with acts of kindness, with words of sweetness in person and on social media. To overpower the spirit of purposelessness which leads to disregard for the value of human life by celebrating life in all the wonderful ways we humans can and advocating for an outlook of meaning and purpose. To relate to other adults with at least the measure of respect that we raise our children to exhibit.

Love is inborn. Hate is learned. And I believe that while it is possible to shoot people, you can’t shoot goodness. I believe that hate can be unlearned, and melted away, like the hardest ice, by a fire of warmth and the inborn goodness which lives within us all and which will, in the end, prevail if we only let it.

I believe that, like a seed must completely disintegrate before it begins to sprout, each act of evil brings our world closer to waking up, closer to sanity, closer to breaking through the earth and reaching for heaven.

I believe that the night is darkest before dawn, that the sun is about to spread its healing rays over our cold and desolate horizon.

And I believe that, with the wonder we borrow from the big brown eyes of that little boy with an unanswerable question, we can dare to hope for a brighter future.

About the Author
Yaakov Klein is the author of Sparks from Berditchov: An Inspirational Guide to Avodas Hashem. His next book, Sunlight of Redemption: An Illuminated Path toward Inner Freedom, will be in stores this coming January. Yaakov lives in Yerushalayim with his wife, Shira, where he studies Torah, writes a bi-weekly column for the Chicago Jewish Home, and produces music.
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