By now, everyone reading this is well aware of the shooting that took place at the Batman premiere in Colorado. The victims had barely been taken out of the theater when the finger-pointing started:
- Liberals blamed the Conservatives. After all, if they weren’t such gun nuts, there wouldn’t have been guns for the shooter to acquire.
- The Conservatives blamed the Liberals. After all, if they didn’t keep guns out of law-abiding citizens’ hands, the shooter could have been put down with far fewer casualties.
- It’s also the medical profession’s fault because the shooter clearly needed help that he didn’t receive.
- And, of course, we’re all somehow to blame because we don’t care enough about civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Honestly, the logic underlying that particular finger-pointing eludes me, but it’s there.)
This is nothing new. It happens every crisis. Conservative talk-show hosts are to blame for the shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords. The movie The Matrix is to blame for Columbine. President Bush was responsible for Katrina.
Sorry, but I’m not buying it. James Holmes is responsible for the Batman shooting in Aurora. Jared Lee Loughner shot Rep. Giffords. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold committed the atrocity in Columbine. Katrina was a hurricane. Every time we take advantage of a crisis to further a personal or political agenda, we absolve the truly-guilty party of a little more responsibility for their actions.
Even more heinous than blaming third parties because it furthers one’s own agenda is blaming the victim. Whether it’s claiming that a rape victim is to blame because she dressed too provocatively or that the US brought 9/11 upon itself, it is reprehensible to blame the injured party for an unprovoked attack. (And yes, there are many who justified al-Qaeda’s actions. Google it.)
If we can’t blame the truly guilty when it’s not convenient, how can we be expected to hold ourselves responsible for our actions? That’s certainly counter to our own agendas! So, you know who ends up being blamed for obesity? McDonald’s.
Yes, obesity is clearly McDonald’s fault. Except, you know what? I keep kosher. I don’t eat at McDonald’s. Or Burger King. Or KFC. I don’t even eat at the kosher equivalents of such places because a Big Mac costs $3.95 and its kosher analog costs $7.95. (Those “two all-beef patties” really add up!) So, if I need to drop another 10 or 90 pounds, I can’t really blame fast food, can I?
I could blame Chinese food, a particular weakness of mine. That makes sense. I worked in a kosher Chinese restaurant while in college and my son worked in one when he returned from study in Israel. Yes, that’s it – Chinese food is to blame! I must sue!
Or, I could re-read the first sentence of my previous paragraph: “I could blame Chinese food, a particular weakness of mine.” Note that Chinese food is a weakness of mine. It’s not inherently evil. Plenty of people possess the willpower to eat it in moderation. If I don’t, you know whose fault that is? Mine. I have to own that.
A good Biblical role model for accepting responsibility is Achan, in the seventh chapter of the book of Joshua. (Accepting responsibility is just about the only thing for which Achan is a good role model, as we will see.) Despite having a military advantage, things went poorly the Jews at the battle of Ai. It came to their attention that the reason was a loss of Divine favor because someone had looted consecrated spoils from the battle of Jericho. Achan ben Karmi of Judah was ultimately identified as the guilty party. He confessed not only to this crime but also to looting under the leadership of Moshe and to a litany of other offenses. And, of course, they let him go when he promised to be good.
No, just kidding! Achan was executed. He was guilty and many others died as a result of his selfish actions. Our deeds do have consequences, after all, and saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t always cut it. (Yes, teshuvah – repentance – is extremely important, but it doesn’t put criminals back on the streets.) But the Talmud in Sanhedrin (44b) tells us that while his confession did not save him from execution, it did secure his place in the Next World.
Achan was far worse than any of us could ever dream of being but when push came to shove, he accepted responsibility for his deeds. Doing so saved his soul. If the rest of us could take responsibility for our far smaller character flaws and lapses of judgment, we could actually change our lives. If we direct that constructive energy outward, we may even change the world.
I once heard OU Executive Vice President, Emeritus Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, define what it means to have faith. (I cannot recall in whose name he said it.) He said that when something bad happens, a person without faith says, “Oh, no. Woe is me. Why did this happen?” A person with faith says, “Okay, this happened. Now what am I going to do about it?” The person without faith is not constructive; he looks backwards. Such people are the ones who end up dealing with their problems by assigning blame. The one who has faith looks ahead, not behind.
There are lots of things that need improvement in this world. We’re never going to fix them if we’re fixated on avoiding blame or furthering personal agendas. To do so is a disservice to the innocent, to the guilty, to society and to ourselves. It also shows a lack of faith on our part. Let’s stop pointing fingers and start rolling up sleeves. Let’s do the right thing and show we have faith.
Rabbi Jack Abramowitz is Torah Content Editor at the Orthodox Union. He is the author of five books, including The Tzniyus Book. His latest work, The Taryag Companion, is available from OU Press as well as on Amazon.