One Nation under Gd – invisible

As a six-year-old reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, I marveled that even non-Jewish Americans knew what Abraham the first Jew taught – that G-d was “invisible”.

Some sixty years later, having long ago discovered that the correct word was indivisible, not invisible, I look around at a country where, at least in our public schools, public discourse and popular media, G-d has become, once again, quite invisible.

In the ten days since the horrific unspeakably evil event in Parkland Florida, our country has been consumed in a national debate looking for a solution that will prevent tragedies like that from reoccurring.

And yet I can’t help but think that our national dialogue is reminiscent of the story of the fellow standing in a hallway frantically checking his pockets repeatedly when someone asked him what he was doing. “I put a bunch of money in my pocket – I checked all of them, my pants pockets, my jacket pockets, my coat pockets all of them, several times, and I can’t find the money!”. “What about your shirt pocket – did you check that?” “No- I can’t” he said, “that’s where I actually put the money and if it’s not there – then it’s really lost!”

Every death is a tragedy, every murder a horror, yet every time it happens in a school the horror is magnified, many times over. There are certain places that by definition should be safe havens, and schools should certainly be just that.

[It’s not that during the period in between school mass shootings things are any better – since the shooting in Parkland until today, more than FIVE HUNDRED people have been murdered in the United States. Each DAY on average, five children under the age of twenty are murdered here in our country. With knives, with handguns, with rifles, with clubs and many other forms of violence. Every one of those murders caused irreparable harm and incomprehensible hurt to those affected. It is our shame as a society that we have become numb to this horror.]

The tragedy in Parkland has shaken us all.  Somehow, in all of the anguish, we have yet to recognize that the solution is staring us right in the face. We just are afraid to look there.

A civilized society is a complex arrangement, whereby multitudes of people can live together in safety.  You might think of it as analogous to a jigsaw puzzle, with many diverse pieces that need to be put together. And as our safety is threatened, the champions of this or that puzzle piece are each clamoring for our attention.

The problem is that we have yet to acknowledge that there needs to be a common framework, something that transcends specific differences. The pieces of the puzzle need the parameters of an overarching framework. (Or this: there are many bricks in the building that we call home. But what is the foundation?)

Children – actually every human being in a civilized society – need to know that there is such a thing as right and wrong. There is good and there is evil and there are absolute standards.

Being honest is always right and kindness is always good because that’s what G-d wants from us. Violence is always wrong and murder is always evil because He says it is.

There is a Creator who put us here and we, every single one of us individually, are accountable to Him.

The function of a school is to educate children and the function of education is to guide children to develop as good, decent and moral human beings. Learning what it means to be good is the reason we need education, without that our society will crumble from within.

(Learning how to make a good living is only secondary to that. Yet, in the upside-down world of today the success of education is measured almost entirely by economic matrixes. How much money are the graduates making and what are the schools doing to promote the economic growth of the community/society/country.)

We are educating children in our schools who not only don’t know how to distinguish between good and evil, they don’t even know that there is such a thing as good and evil. And it’s not their fault.

Walk into an average public school tenth grade and ask the following question – your beloved dog and a complete stranger are both about to drown and you can only rescue one – which would it be? If there is even one child who would answer, my dog – I’ve made my point.

But of course – for an honest conversation about morals, good and bad, right and wrong inevitably we are going to be talking about religion and G-d and in our society, we have come to accept as a given that G-d is supposed to be invisible.

So instead we talk about the “pieces of the puzzle” – guns and mental health and early intervention and armed guards and violent video games – all important pieces. And we have yet to look at the framework, we have yet to examine what’s missing from the foundation.

Why are we afraid to have that conversation? Yes, I know about the establishment clause in the First Amendment and I don’t advocate repealing it. But there is not a single reasonable argument that can be advanced against having a moment of silence to start every school day.

Picture the scenario: The child comes home, tells the parent that the school day starts with a moment of silence. “And my teacher said I should ask you for ideas about what to think about”. And the parent, in their role as primary educators of their child, can suggest that the child begin each day thinking about good and bad, right and wrong, the Creator, His creation and our place in it.

Of course a public school teacher should not be teaching about G-d or religion, that is the role of the parent and or those they choose to designate.

But that moment of silence at the beginning of the school day will then be the catalyst that ensures that parents a) recognize the major part of education not being addressed in public school and b) helps the child start to fill in that gap. The framework will be set.

In a few days we will read the Megillah of Esther as we celebrate Purim. In the entire Book of Esther G-d is not mentioned once. But He’s not invisible.  His hand is there – we just need to look for it.

Our children deserve no less, our society will not survive without it.

About the Author
Yisrael Deren serves as Regional Director of Chabad Lubavitch in Connecticut and Senior Rabbi of Chabad of Stamford. Born in Davenport Iowa, raised in Pittsburgh, and educated under the Rebbe's supervision in Brooklyn and Israel, he, together with his wife Aviva, have been Shluchim of the Rebbe for close to 50 years.
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