Many cultures observe a festival of lights in the darkest days of winter. For us it is Hanukkah, for others Christmas; as well there are Pagan festivals of light in the winter. For Jews and Christians, the winter festival also represents salvation.
This winter, however, no amount of candles, LED lights or bonfires will lighten the darkness in our hearts. In mid-December, there were at least three mass shootings in public areas. The most heartbreaking, of course, is the loss of all those precious children at the school in Newtown, Conn.
In the Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a, we find: “Man was created alone, to teach you that whoever takes a single life... Scripture ascribes to him the guilt of having destroyed the whole world; and whoever saves a single life... Scripture ascribes to him the merit of having saved the whole world.”
The world of those parents in Connecticut, as well as in other places of mass murder, has in fact been destroyed. No parent should ever have to bury a child; that it was from senseless murder makes it that much worse.
There is no answer in Torah for such acts of violence. The Torah tells us we were created “b’tzelem Elohim,” in God’s image. The Torah also commands that we shall not murder. These acts of murder, in essence, serve as an attempt to destroy God from the world.
On December 19, 2012, President Obama gave a charge to his cabinet to find answers and real fixes for several problems in our country. I would like to elaborate on what I see are the issues, and how we can address them:
1. The glorification of gun violence in movies, TV and video games: Just as it is not legal, according to interpretation of the First Amendment, to shout “fire” in a crowded theater, other incendiary speech should be limited too. This includes, as I see it, limiting the glorification of gun violence in the media.
2. This country has become, in the last few decades, morally bankrupt. We no longer teach ethics, values and personal responsibility in schools. I firmly believe that these topics can and should be taught, without resorting to the Bible or other religious teachings.
3, With the current trends in healthcare, mental health care has become very difficult to afford or access. We need much more available mental health care in this country.
4. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has, based on my experiences as a teacher, forced far too many students into inappropriate mainstream settings. The schools are not equipped or staffed for this, and most teachers do not have the requisite special training needed. By mainstreaming such children, they are then shunned by their classmates, leading them to be socially isolated, and often hated for the disruptions they cause due to their difficulties. If these students were taught in special-needs programs with similar students, they would be able to function at a higher level, and would be more socialized. This would result in such developmentally or educationally disabled people feeling more at home in society. Some Chabad schools have been very successful with this.
So, what can we do about this horrible trend? I have seen many calls for more gun control laws. In my opinion, adding broad-based gun control is really tilting at windmills. In the case of the Newtown shooting, the rifle was apparently legally obtained. One thing to observe is that these weapons are sold as semi-automatic, which means one shot per trigger pull. Amazingly, while gun shops cannot legally sell full-automatic (one trigger pull, many bullets) versions of these rifles, they can sell the conversion kit to switch to full auto separately. This is certainly one area where gun control might have effect.
However, rather than putting a spot Band-Aid on an arterial bleed, we need to stay focused on the root causes — guns are the tool but not the source of the violence. None of the ideas I have suggested are easy. Making mental-health care accessible would be expensive, as is special-needs instruction in schools. We need to provide motivation for good people to go into these fields with scholarships for advanced degrees in mental-health care and special-needs education, with the recipients committing to at least four years of public service to pay for their scholarships.
It seems to me that we have been placing a value on human life by refusing to confront these issues, which are mainly economic. It is a very cynical calculus when people monetize the value of human life. Please consider talking or writing to your state and federal legislators to fully fund the fixes to these issues, so that we can restore some sense of freedom and safety in our lands, and restore value to human life, instead of having greed be the capital we operate on.