It feels as if our world is fraying. This week we encountered the horror of yet another mass shooting unleashed on an elementary school, killing 21, traumatizing hundreds of others, and upending the lives of all their families. The scope of the harm inflicted is unfathomable.
This is not an isolated event and the trend it represents is something that requires serious action to reverse. We must, however, first pause and try to absorb the scope of what occurred, and then consider how we can pivot to substantive action.
It is not enough for us to consider this for a moment. The onlooker may feel that he or she can fulfill the requirement of empathy by taking note of the other’s challenge, acknowledging it, and moving on. But that does not do it, because for the newly bereaved parents the issue is ongoing. It is “life”.
This idea is poignantly highlighted in this week’s Parsha (Vayikra 26:42), where G-d promises, וזכרתי את בריתי יעקוב ואף את בריתי יצחק ואף את בריתי אברהם אזכר והארץ אזכר, “I shall remember my covenant with Yaakov, and also my covenant with Yitzchak, and my covenant with Avraham I shall recall.” The presentation is a bit difficult, as it uses the term “remembrance” explicitly regarding only two of the three Avos (patriarchs). The Sages (see Rashi there) explain that in the case of Yitzchak, G-d did not need to recall him, as his ashes lie piled before Hashem always. One does not need to “remember” that which is present.
It is an unusual statement. But perhaps we can readily see it as a simple reciprocation from G-d. Avraham was willing to offer his son, his only and his beloved son, to G-d. That would make him a bereaved parent. A bereaved parent carries their child with them everywhere, all the time. Yes, at some point after Shiva, after Shloshim, after the first year, they get themselves together with G-d’s help. They do not stop living. They continue, they function, they work, they converse, and they even smile. But there is a hole that is never filled, a void that is forever. And so G-d simply said – if Avraham was willing to sacrifice his son, if he was willing to carry that loss with him every day for the rest of his life for My sake, then I will carry that readiness, his commitment to Me, with Me every day forever.
Hashem knew what that challenge would mean for Avraham. He knew that it was not a moment of sacrifice, an act that would be “one and done”, or even one that would require a recovery period. Hashem knew that this sacrifice would be something that Avraham would live with every single day. צבור ומונח לפניו. Constantly present before His eyes.
It is important that we absorb this. When we begin to appreciate the extent of the devastation that was wrought this week, we can be moved to consider what we can possibly do to prevent its repetition.
And we must do something. This event must move us – me and you – to respond, to change ourselves, to turn to G-d, and to act meaningfully to mend our society.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks zt”l would tell the story of a life-changing encounter with the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt”l, that he had in 1968 when Rabbi Sacks was a sophomore in Cambridge.
“So I started the sentence, “In the situation in which I find myself…” – and the Rebbe did something which I think was quite unusual for him, he actually stopped me in mid-sentence. He says, “Nobody finds themselves in a situation; you put yourself in a situation. And if you put yourself in that situation, you can put yourself in another situation.””
We can choose to live as spectators, as pawns on someone else’s chess board, or we can instead live as players.
“Vayikra” speaks of G-d summoning Moshe to the mishkan, the Tent of Meeting. This was a divine summons for a substantive engagement, a “calling”. But the book ends with dire warnings of what would befall the Jewish people were they to go with G-d b’keri, with chance (“Vayikra” minus its small ‘aleph’, producing “Vayikar” (see Baal HaTurim Vayikra 1:1). This describes the very opposite of a calling, an existence that just happens, attributed to chance and nature instead of to G-d and meaning. Rather than experiencing life as a fulsome encounter with G-d where He has chosen to position us, we see it as something that just passes us by, “a situation in which we find ourselves.”
When we live with a calling we are summoned to act and to create change. When “life happens” then we are doomed to watch the show unfold and the world unravel. This week reminded us that this is something we cannot afford to do. And while there is no simple path to a solution, passivity is not an option. We must change ourselves, turn to G-d, and find the way to mend our ailing world.
May HKBH help us and help the world to grow שלום בארץ, genuine peace in the world.
If you have a moment, please click here to hear a thought on the Parsha relating to the preeminent value of Shalom.
Have a wonderful Shabbos.