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Save a seat for somebody else

“We almost didn’t have enough chairs for you. Rentals seating was particularly hard to get with Graduations currently happening all over the country.” The University President told a graduate this week, “we almost had half of you seated on blankets.” He went on to urge every graduate to “save a seat for somebody else” in whatever settings they find themselves in life. To recognize that the good fortune and circumstance that brought them to where they sat, should be extended to others in the future.

It’s been a very painful week. In response to the slaughter of children at the Robb Elementary School, so many of us are struggling under the weight of heart-failure and inaction. It was heart-failure that took the life on Thursday of 50-year old Joe Garcia. After leaving flowers at the site where his wife-of-24-years, Irma, was one of the two teachers killed on Tuesday. And it’s an epidemic of inaction that has begun to turn our distrust into disgust.

We might ask ourselves, How self-interested are our responses? Are they ignoring our nation’s epidemic of violent crime? Are they inattentive to the Constitution’s difference between unabridged free-speech and well-regulated firearms (First and Second Amendments). Do they recognize how online life is diluting our capacity for outrage and infecting our bloodstreams with rage?

An alternative mode of response seeks help from others. Posting and posturing may feel right and be necessary. But, by now it should be clear, building sturdy things happens offline. We’re at our best when we act and when we ask for help.

This week’s portion of Torah presents a bleak picture of a world devoid of goodness and wellness. Yet, a faithful commitment endures. We emerge with the covenant intact. “Then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land” (Lev. 26:43). Why is Jacob mentioned first? Why reverse the order of the patriarchs?

Perhaps because he’s lost, alone, and in lacerating pain. His times are dark and disorienting. In order to face adversaries mightier than he, Jacob seeks help.

Collective change requires collective efforts. I recently heard about a practice for establishing new policies in Mongolia. Before implementation, they workshop a new law with 1,000 citizens from diverse backgrounds to estimate unintended consequences. In short, they ask for help.

Many things are needed to stop mass-shootings. Being unaccepting of them is vital. Formulating policies and restoring norms will require commitment and help from others. Offer a seat to someone else. Ask somebody for help. May these habits take root as we seek to restore the blessings of liberty.

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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