Lazer Gurkow

We Are Not Victims

Damage Caused By Bullets Fires At A Jewish School In Toronto

This Shabbat, the 2’nd of Sivan, will be three-thousand-three-hundred-thirty-six years since G-d declared us a kingdom of princes. However, when our enemies take potshots at our children’s schools, it is hard to feel like a kingdom of princes. Nevertheless, that was precisely how I felt when I watched footage of the rally held in front of the Beis Chaya Mushka Chabad girls’ school in Toronto last week.

Early on Shabbat morning, April 25, two masked gunmen shot bullets into the front wall of the school causing minor damage to some plate glass. Thank G-d, no one was there, and no one was hurt. The police have not identified the shooters or motive and have not called it a hate crime. However, the Jewish community was quick to respond in solidarity in light of rising antisemitism in Canada and around the world.

At the Monday morning rally, politicians made all the right noises and hit all the right notes. But what drew my attention was the handful of girls, some Beis Chaya Mushka students and some not, who joined the rally. They gathered to declare that the shooting would not deter them. They would continue to attend school (with enhanced police protection of course) and to practice and identify openly as Jewish.

It made me think of what G-d told our ancestors before He gave them the Torah. He told them that He chose them to be a holy nation and a kingdom of princes. These little girls comported themselves with the dignity and conviction of royal princesses. Their message was soft spoken, but resolute. Their visages refined, but determined. They stood with the regal strength of princesses, the chosen eternal nation.

Kingdom of Princes
What does it mean to be a kingdom of princess and how does it relate to the stand of these little girls? The answer comes in typical Jewish fashion by way of another question: Why must we be a kingdom of princess to receive the Torah? If the Torah is about scholarship and devotion, piety and altruism, it is necessary to be a holy people. What do kingdom and princehood have to do with this? Is that not a title reserved for people who rule the world?

The Talmud (Shabbos 88a–b) answered this question with a story. When G-d proposed to give the Torah to the Jews, the angels objected. The Torah is G-d’s hidden treasure, they charged, and should remain in the rarified heavens.

G-d instructed Moses to reply, and he did: The Torah states, “I am G-d who took you out of Egypt,” have angels ever been to Egypt? “Have no other G-ds but me,” do you live among idol worshipping nations? “Do not take G-d’s name in vain,” do you take oaths? “Do not murder, commit adultery, or steal,” do you suffer jealousy or an evil inclination? The angels had no choice but to agree.

This is a curious tale. Surely the angels knew what was written in the Torah before they objected. What did they learn from Moses’ reply that they did not already know?

Moses taught them why G-d wished to give the Torah to earthlings. Until that time, the Torah had been in heaven, where angels and souls cherished and studied it. Until that time, the Torah’s purpose was to compound the holiness of these already celestial beings and facilitate ever greater bonds between them and G-d. Earthlings could not compete with these angels and souls. No mortal could be closer to G-d than a heavenly being.

A New Purpose
However, Moses pointed out, G-d was about to expand the purpose of the Torah. Going forward, the Torah would not only make us holy, but would also change the world. The new task would be to bring the Torah into the world’s filthiest locations, Places like Egypt where the people are pagan and deny G-d’s existence. Places like Canaan where the people were driven by jealousy and ruled by evil inclinations.

The purpose would be to offer moral and ethical guidance and turn these places around. To shine a beacon of light into these dens of darkness until the darkness is transformed into light. To accomplish this, G-d gave the Torah to a people on earth. A people markedly less holy than heavenly beings, but a people that could bring the Torah to crude unruly nations and be an influence for the good.

The angels accepted this response. They recognized that while they are closer to G-d, G-d needs earthly beings to bring the Torah’s message to the world.

This is why G-d charged us with being (a) a holy nation and (b) a kingdom of princes. Yes, we must do the best we can to be a holy nation, but we must also be a light unto the nations. A kingdom of princes who ventures into dark places, but stands with grace, shines a beacon of light, and makes a difference.

I saw this gentle grace, firm resolve, and dignified purpose in the bearing of the young girls at the rally last week. They were not in their school where the students are immersed in the Torah as a holy nation. They were standing on the street, among the media and politicians, and communicating through a silent but powerful presence. With dignity of purpose. With the bearing of a kingdom of princes.

Their message to the world was that the Jewish people never were and never will be victims. We do not validate evil by responding with despair. We respond to darkness with a message of light that melts away the darkness. It takes two to tango. You can’t fight a people that won’t fight you. These girls were not spoiling for a fight. They stood with a quiet grace that proclaimed their determination to carry on.

Evil doesn’t scare us. Hatred doesn’t faze us. Threats don’t intimidate us. We stand strong with the strength of our convictions. We stand tall with faith in our principles. We march forward with a message of goodness and kindness that does not let evil prevail. We are not victims. We don’t cower in darkness. We will keep studying and teaching the Torah. We will shine a light. The darkness will fade.

The Census
The Torah portion that we read this week describes the census of the Jewish people. The Talmud teaches that some things can be legally nullified. For example, a drop of milk in a pot of meat is nullified by a ratio of sixty to one. However, something that is counted, is never nullified. The greater ratio doesn’t impact it. For example, a loaf of bread is not nullified in a thousand loaves of Matzah because loaves are countable items. They are not sold by the pound, but by the loaf. Each loaf stands for itself and doesn’t blend into larger measures.

When G-d counted our ancestors, we became a countable commodity impervious to nullification. They can come at us with loud voices, intimidating epithets, blood curdling screams, heinous threats, gory violence, and political prowess, but we remain standing. You can’t nullify a people that is counted by G-d.

I saw this refusal to be nullified in the bearing of these little girls and it lifted my spirits. We, adults, would do well to take a page out of the book of these girls and remember their message. We are not victims. We are not a weak people. We are the eternal nation, and we stand tall. We don’t cower or fear.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at
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