Peter Lanza, Don’t Blame Yourself

Yesterday, Peter Lanza, father of Sandy Hook Elementary shooter Adam Lanza, said that he wished his son had never been born. This is an understandable sentiment, and one I’m sure many share, but Peter Lanza misses the mark in blaming himself for his son’s actions. I will illustrate with a story from the Book of Kings.

Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah in English) was one of the greatest of all Jewish kings, on a level with David and Shlomo (Solomon). In II Kings chapter 20, Chizkiyahu took ill and the prophet Isaiah came to visit him. Isaiah told Chizkiyahu that he was fated to die. Chizkiyahu cried and repented, so G-d changed the decree and added 15 years to his life.

The Talmud in tractate Brachos (10a) sheds light on why Chizkiyahu was going to die. There, the Talmud tells us the following discussion took place:

          Chizkiyahu: What did I do to deserve such harsh treatment?

          Isaiah: It is because you chose not to fulfill the obligation to marry and have children.

          Chizkiyahu: But I foresaw prophetically that if I did, my son would do horrible things.

          Isaiah: That’s between your son and G-d. Your job is to fulfill your obligation and to have children!

Chizkiyahu repented and agreed to fulfill his obligation. Sure enough, his son Menashe grew up to be one of the worst kings in Jewish history. According to II Kings 24:4, he figuratively filled the streets of Jerusalem with innocent blood. He was so steeped in idolatry that his influence could not be stemmed by his grandson, the righteous king Josiah. Menashe was directly responsible for the Babylonian exile and the destruction of the first Temple – and yet G-d told Chizkiyahu that it was his responsibility to have children!

Ultimately, Chizkiyahu is responsible for Chizkiyahu’s actions; Menashe is responsible for Menashe’s. Peter Lanza is responsible for Peter Lanza’s actions; Adam Lanza is responsible for Adam Lanza’s We raise our children as best we can but there comes a point when they’re adults with their own accountability. When a child becomes bar mitzvah, we say “Baruch she’patrani” – basically, “I am no longer responsible for your bad judgment.” We shouldn’t blame our parents for our actions – that’s a cop-out – and we likewise should not blame ourselves for our children’s shortcomings (assuming that we did our best to raise them properly). This is true even at the magnitude of a Menashe, let alone an Adam Lanza.

The same piece of Gemara shares one more lesson. Chizkiyahu wanted to try to change the decree against his life and Isaiah told him that it was too late. Nevertheless, Chizkiyahu refused to be swayed.

“I learned from my ancestor King David never to give up hope of G-d’s mercy, even if the sword is resting on one’s neck,” he said.

Sure enough, with prayer and repentance, Chizkiyahu did manage to change the decree. No matter the circumstances, no matter how bleak, there is always light and there is always hope.

Peter Lanza, if you tried to raise your son properly, this is not on you. Chizkiyahu is still deemed righteous, despite raising an evil son. What you’re feeling is natural but it’s not your fault. Try to find and embrace light and hope.