The worst thing about gun violence in America is, of course, the tragedy and pain of senseless killing. Who among us can truly empathize with someone who has lost a loved one to a killer brandishing an assault rifle? Who can truly feel their pain or their sadness? I admire and marvel at the courage of Mark Barden, who lost his 7-year old son Daniel in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School three years ago, for speaking about his loss and then introducing President Obama at a press conference. Somehow he was able to translate his pain into an activist message, but I suspect that most others who have experienced such searing tragedy do not find that possible.
Perhaps the second worst thing about gun violence in America is that we’re getting used to it. We’re not even surprised or shocked any longer when we hear of a mass shooting somewhere in the country. Even the Torah, in this week’s parasha, hints that one of the tolls taken by such grim experiences in life is that we grow accustomed to them. In Exodus 6:6, God reiterates to Moses His promise to end the enslavement and degradation of the people of Israel: “Therefore say to the people of Israel, I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you from their slavery, and I will redeem you…” The Hebrew phrase that translates as “the burdens of the Egyptians” is Sivlot Mitzrayim. A Chasidic commentary points out that the word Sivlot comes from the word “tolerate” (in modern Hebrew, Savlanut means patience). The effect of the enslavement on the people of Israel was not only physical; they had gotten used to the burdens placed on them and had learned to tolerate them. The physical torment of slavery was made worse because they had grown numb to their pain. As a nation, have we come to tolerate such tragic and senseless taking of life? Has apathy set in to our national consciousness, a feeling that nothing can be done to keep us safe?
Every generation must have its activists, its inspired and courageous individuals who do not see the burden of violence as something to be tolerated. Moses, Aaron and the Elders of Israel were the activists for our people ages ago, coming along to remind us to shake off the feeling of resignation as a prerequisite to claiming freedom. In our day, there are numerous organizations that are devoted to resisting the gun culture in our country and to opposing powerful gun lobbyists. The message of such organizations to us is that gun violence need not be a burden that is tolerated and that we need not sacrifice our safety or that of our children.
Moms Demand Action is one such organization. Our Social Action Committee has partnered with MDA to present two outstanding programs this year on gun violence prevention. A third will take place at Oheb Shalom in the coming week, on January 14 at 7:00 PM (next Thursday night). MDA will present its Be Smart Campaign, designed to educate parents and grandparents about gun safety and empower adults to ask the necessary questions about the presence of firearms in a place where we expect our children to be safe. Avoiding gun violence, including the unintentional firing of a weapon, cannot be taken for granted, yet it’s likely that most people feel awkward about asking whether or not guns are present where our children or grandchildren will be, or simply don’t think to ask. The Be Smart Campaign includes a video and a moderated discussion, and is appropriate for parents or grandparents who care for young children. I encourage you to attend this important event on Thursday night, because gun violence is not something we must accept.