Uvalde: Thoughts and Prayers or Good and Evil

I hate when people offer “thoughts and prayers” after a shooting like the one this week or the one in Buffalo the week before. Or any of the others our country experiences.

And I also hate calls of, “we need to take action” after mass shootings. 

Not because I don’t believe in thoughts and prayers – I most certainly do. And I believe in praying we change ourselves, this world and the next. And I also believe that about which we think is also a reality like the one in which we find ourselves and it, too, must be shaped in the proper way.

It’s not that I don’t believe action needs to be taken. But don’t tell me we need to just “take action.” That sounds too much like, let’s run around in a panic. And don’t say everything would work out great except those “other people” are blocking it all from happening. That just seems a lazy way of also doing nothing. Lots of creative political tactics to make changes on a local or state level could take place even if national government is stymied on this issue. So “action” is often equally lacking in substance.   

But most of all I hate these expressions because they miss the absolutely essential detail of these situations. And that is:

כִּ֠י יֵ֣צֶר לֵ֧ב הָאָדָ֛ם רַ֖ע מִנְּעֻרָ֑יו

For every inclination of the human heart is evil from its youth.

Human beings are evil. That’s not right. But human beings have the capacity for evil. For great and terrible evil. God is telling us this here at the start of Genesis. The only things that really come before this in the Torah are a bunch of examples that prove this is true!

Action, thoughts, and prayers do nothing to address evil. At least that never seems to be what those phrases address.

And what does address evil? What challenges and can defeat it? Good! Humanity’s capacity for good. Its great and wonderful capacity for good. 

It’s devastating to look at the pictures of these children who were slaughtered. You think about the fear with which they died. The robbery of their futures. The crushing devastation of their families and friends. Those things crush down on us, too.

But — and I can say this to all of you — these are things that would be blasphemy to try and say at this point to someone suffering directly from these murders – so I say it to you. We must, we must, combat evil with good. We must pour good into the world and drown out evil. 

So, when I think of action and prayers and thoughts, what I mean, what we should hear, is a call to do good.

Already the leadership of the synagogue has joined with me in calling on each member of our community to perform 21, and now it must be 22, distinct mitzvot, good deeds we might not have done or gone looking to find and do, in memory of these martyrs. 

To that I would add – keep doing them. Let it enter your heart to actively, anxiously, assertively, be on the look out for good you can contribute to our world.

The Psalms enjoin us: O you who love the LORD, hate evil!   אֹֽהֲבֵ֥י ה’ שִׂנְא֫וּ־רָ֥ע

And we told that in loving God we must emulate God’s ways which are good – who clothes the naked, helps the poor and the widow and the orphan and more.

Let us choose specific ways in which we can do good. Let fighting evil and doing good be behind all the ways in which we respond in the prayers we offer, in legislative advocacy we may undertake, and in our daily lives most of all

About the Author
Aaron Benson is a Conservative rabbi on Long Island, serving at the North Shore Jewish Center. He is the current president of the Suffolk County Board of Rabbis and a chaplain for the Suffolk County Police Department.
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