This morning, I turned on CNN for a few minutes to catch up on the day’s events. The program showed pictures of the teachers and students murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary school whose funerals were being held today. The reporter then offered the latest update on the investigation at the gunman’s home. Finally, the newscaster said that after commercials they will have a segment on bullet proof backpacks that kids can wear to protect themselves when in school.
‘Good God!’ I thought. ‘What has this world come to?’ I’m supposed to be writing a speech for a baby naming that I’m conducting next week. But how do you welcome an innocent, new life into such a world – where kids need to wear bulletproof backpacks to school?
This coming week’s Torah portion is called Vayechi which means “And he lived.” The Torah portion which concludes the book of Genesis, describes the deaths of Jacob, and later Joseph. Yet the portion refuses to be named or defined by death; rather it emphasizes life. Similarly, the Torah portion which describes Sarah’s death is called, Chaye Sarah: “The Life of Sarah.” In both accounts, the quality of the person’s life is emphasized, rather than their death. These titles echo God’s words in Deuteronomy: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendents may live."
An ancient Jewish group at Qumran understood life as a battle between the forces of death and darkness and those of life and light. That’s what life feels like nowadays. As wreaths and teddy bears pour into Sandy Hook, people are trying to bring any kind of light and love after the death and destruction that was brought to that community and to the whole country.
One small ray of light that came out of the massacre is that there now seems to be an awakening happening. In addiction work, people often talk about hitting “rock bottom” – the lowest point within a person’s life where they decide they have to change. It feels like we’ve hit rock bottom as a country, and have realized that our laws, which fail to prevent murder, and our culture, which glorifies violence, must change. My inbox fills with petitions from every conceivable group calling for common sense gun laws. From Obama on down, every parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, and teacher, has been weeping, hugging the kids in their lives a little tighter and feeling a call to action.
Issues that seemed unfixable – causes that seemed politically unfeasible – suddenly seem like they must and will change, if we come together. We hear the call of the angel of God, who when Isaac was bound on the altar with a knife to his throat screamed to Abraham, “Do not raise your hand against the boy or do any harm to him.” We’ve finally decided to heed God’s call and choose life.
In one loud voice, the souls of the entire country are crying out the prayer with which Jacob blessed his son Joseph before his death, a prayer that is recited at bedtime by Jews all over the world: Hamalach ha-goel oti mi-kol ra, yivarech at hanearim: May the angel who redeems me from all evil, bless the children.”