Today, October 27, 2018, 9:30am ET: An evil gunman burst into the Temple of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. Within a few minutes, eleven Jews were brutally murdered, and six more were injured.
“Sometimes, God is beyond understanding,” my mentor, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz once shared with me. Indeed, our finite, human minds, will never fully comprehend the infinite G-d. Still, our shattered hearts cannot contain the pain.
Yet, 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 two pressing reflections:
- Absolute evil exists, and it must be fought, with unwavering determination.
It is about time we stop offering excuses for evil perpetrators. Too often, we fall silent when faced with evil attacks and the many masks that they wear – from hate-speech to antisemitic boycotts and sanctions.
But it is high time we recognize evil for what it is, and we stand united against it, with defiance and conviction (of course, in a legal and dignified way) until it is eradicated from all publications, and institutions that enable its existence. During these perilous times, it would behoove us to remember that which Albert Einstein taught us all: “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
Amidst the terror of this massacre, a fascinating juxtaposition appeared:
Here stood a group of Synagogue worshippers who were celebrating Jewish life. There, a world apart, stood their callous Neo-Nazi murderer, determined to 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 US Government will surely do what it can and we pray for their success and the safety and security of our brethren in Pittsburgh, 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 a 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 Torah study to lending a helping hand.
Without a doubt, goodness, and life, will then eventually prevail.