Alan Abrams

The horror of finding healing after Las Vegas

I’m not angry at Stephen Paddock.

It’s not that I don’t get angry. I do. And neither am I saying that I forgive him. I don’t.

Now I know what I’m about to say is probably going to make some of you angry, but I ask you to try and stick with me and hear me out beyond the next sentence. I feel sorry for Stephen Paddock.

Yeah, I said it. I feel sorry for him. Imagine him sitting in front of those video pocQuadacesjacksorbetterket machines. In this New York Times story, they say “he could play several hundred hands an hour.” There is no real opponent in video poker, you’re just playing against the machine. Unlike in poker with humans, it’s impossible to win. “The top machines at Mandalay Bay pay out 99.17 percent, or $99.17 for every $100 wagered.”

Hour-after-hour, he just sat there, pressing buttons and listening to bells. To me, at least, that sounds like hell. But, I would guess it would be an effective form of addiction for the person who is in so much emotional pain that they want to turn off all of their thoughts and feelings.

Yes, what I’m saying is that Paddock was a gambling addict. And one who had found an amazingly functional way of doing it. The odds were against him as I’ve already said, but not by a lot. If he bet often enough, he was sure to only lose a very small percentage (0.83 percent) of his money. And he could actually convince himself that he was really coming out ahead because of all the comps he was getting. Indeed, he was comped on the 32nd floor room from which he carried out his massacre because of the huge amount of money he was wagering.

Now, let me be clear. I’m not saying it’s not ok to be angry at Stephen Paddock. The fact is that I’m real angry in the wake of Vegas. Just not at Paddock.

I was just watching an episode of the new Ken Burns Vietnam documentary. The whole episode, you kinda know that the young, patriotic man from Saratoga Springs the episode focuses on is going to be dead before it’s over. But, somehow, you keep hoping. Keep praying with his family that he’ll come back. But he never did.

And I’m sitting here on my couch in Jerusalem crying over an American who died in 1965. The same tears I cried after Vegas. Because all of these were unnecessary, preventable deaths. Deaths that happened because people in power refused to even look at the truth, whether it’s LBJ celebrating that one TV network cut off senior diplomat George Kennan’s riveting testimony before congress encouraging an end to the Vietnam war, or it’s our current-day congress passing laws preventing Federal funds from being used to study the causes and public health impact of gun violence. It’s putting our proverbial heads in the sand, and the cost is human lives. And that sure makes me angry.

In this coming Shabbat’s parsha, God wipes nearly every human off the Earth for the “Earth was filled with חמס/chamas.” It’s mysterious what this word חמס actually means. Rashi highlights the possibility it means גזל/gezel, or thievery. But the midrash cited by the Ohr HaChayahim suggests that there are other great evils that provoked the Holy One’s wrath, including sinful sexual behavior (גלוי עריות), the spilling of blood (ie, murder) and idolatry.

All three of these sins are all over our news, today, and their perpetrators have all been aided by people looking away and “keeping their heads in the sand.” A shocking number of people appear to have looked away from the terrible sexual abuses of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein; unbelievable amounts of blood have been spilled not only in Vegas but in wars and ethnic cleansings in Syria and even Myanmar (where our hopes for freedom and democracy were so high so recently) while congress and the rest of the world do nothing; and, finally, America’s worship of guns continues unabated.

As much as I support gun control in America, I do not pray for it. What I pray for is healing for America. So, it will not so easily stand idly by while a lonely man deposits his soul into a video poker machine one bit at a time. So, it will be a place with enough love to spare that even one as warped as Stephen Paddock might have been able to look forward to his days. For if he had, if he had had anything to live for, he surely would not have killed a single person that terrible day.

I know my words will anger some, and you might think I am saying he was not responsible for the unthinkable sin he committed against God and humans. But that is not what I mean to say. He is responsible.

But what I am saying is that “who is responsible” is not the right question. The right question is how can we create a society that is more characterized by healing than by hating, more by connection than by loneliness.

Maybe worth thinking about.

Peace to all.

About the Author
Alan Abrams is a spiritual care educator who made Aliyah in 2014. He and his wife live in Jerusalem with their two "sabra" children. Alan is the founder of HavLi and the HaKen Institute, spiritual care education and research centers based in Jerusalem. A rabbi, Alan received a PhD in May 2019 from NYU for his dissertation on the theology of pastoral care. He was a business journalist in his first career.