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For the March For Our Lives - March 24, 2018

Shabbat HaGadol
Saturday, March 24, 2018

1. At heart is the question: what place should guns have in our culture? In our self-conception? This is not a new question. The Mishnah raises this question in the context of figuring out the religio-legal boundaries of the Shabbat. May one carry weapons on Shabbat from private to public domain? The Rabbis differ. One Rabbi, Eliezer, says that weapons are a man’s adornments. (“Man’s adornment” is intentional, the rabbis see weapons as gendered male.  This too is reflected in current discourse. Men are overwhelmingly the shooters. Women, in domestic disputes, are overwhelmingly the victims of intimate gun violence.)

“Sages,” the collective voice of the rest of the rabbis push back, saying that “they are nothing but shame,” and then, as a proof text, quoting this famous verse from Isaiah 2: And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: a nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. The Shabbat, goes the thinking, is a performance of the world to come, the ideal world. In that world there will be no guns, therefore bringing guns into Shabbat is shameful, degrading, both to the arms bearer and to the Shabbat.

The outlines of this debate are not that different from the current debate. A weaponized society is not a subtle society. A gun stops discourse. The NRA folks like to say that “an armed society is a polite society.” This may or may not be true. (It could easily be a society of constant gun battles, with body counts even higher than today’s.) However, it is not a “polite” society that we want or need. Democracy, for it to work, needs to be boisterous not quiet. The shooting of nineteen year old Jordan Davis in a gas station by a man who thought his music was too loud, or the shooting of a father of a three year old in a movie for inappropriate talking on a cell-phone, gives us a glimpse of what the “polite” society might look like. An intimidated society is not a polite society. It is a society in which everybody lives in fear.

We can gradually walk ourselves back from the brink. Common sense gun regulations, regulations which rise above the ineffectual but won’t scare politicians too much, can and do make a difference. The most basic of these is making background checks obligatory in all gun sales. There is convincing evidence that this works. In those states in which background checks are the law in all handgun sales, there are fewer women killed with a gun by an intimate partner, there are fewer suicides with a gun, there are fewer police officers murdered with a handgun that was not their own. It is a small step but a step in the right direction.

This is how redemption happens. One step at a time. Never losing hope. Next year in the Promised Land. Aryeh Cohen,

2. "If a person eats a lot of maror (bitter herbs), his/her innards become swollen and crushed, and eating karpas is the remedy. We eat the karpas before the maror as a reminder that God sends the remedy before the injury. The redemption of Israel was already prepared before the people went down to Mitzrayim and entered into slavery." (Haggadat Yalkut Tov, Rabbi Eliyahu Ki Tov)

In the midst of the bitterness of this plague of gun violence, we may struggle to believe in redemption. But perhaps the remedy for the maror lies before us. How can we find the strength to move beyond our cries of pain to seeking redemptive solutions?

What are some responses to gun violence that might move us toward redemption? Rabbi Jill Jacobs,

3. Shabbat rest, while the most holy of days (yes, that includes Yom Kippur), can be set aside for a variety of reasons, the most well known of which is "pikuach nefesh," saving a life. 

This Shabbat is called HaGadol - the GREAT Shabbat - and is the Shabbat immediately before Passover. On Passover, we are obliged to see ourselves as though we personally had been taken out of Egyptian bondage. Our putting ourselves into the shoes of the oppressed helps us see and cry out against the oppression of others. This is the epitome of the Torah verse: Do not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds (Lev. 19).

This Shabbat, God willing, our act of "pikuach nefesh" will be the small step of walking to tell victims of gun violence that they are not forgotten or abandoned as to urge our elected officials to legislate realistic and common sense gun laws. God willing, our youth, who are leading us by example, will know that we stand with them, praying that they will realize the words of Micah 4:4: Every one shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree, and no one will make them afraid,

And as we do, we recall the prophetic words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel after his historic march with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Selma to Montgomery in 1965: "Legs are not lips, and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying."

May our prayers for Shabbat peace now and always be heard.  Baruch Atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech ha-olam, shomei'a t'filah. Praised are You, Holy One of Blessing, Who hears prayers. Cantor Penny Kessler,

Oseh shalom bimromav,
Hu ya’aseh shalom
 aleinu v’al kol Yisraeil 
v’al kol yoshvei teivel, 
v’imru:  Amen.
May the Source of peace
Who makes peace in the heavens
 make peace for us, for all Israel,
and for all the nations of the world,
 and let us say: Amen.


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