The Shabbat of Hanukkah comes on the heels of terrible news of tragedy in Newtown Connecticut. As one reporter said, it is truly overwhelming to consider a young man who would shoot, and keep shooting, innocent small children – and his mother, their teacher – at an elementary school, in a kindergarten classroom. That young man is now dead, as are many others, and especially here in Portland, we are still reeling from the shooting at the Clackamas Mall earlier in the week, and we are left stunned.
My heart is like wax, melting within my chest.
My mouth is dry as a shard, my tongue stuck to my jaw
dry as the dust of death.
– Psalm 22
The Jewish response to news of death is barukh Dayan haEmet, which can be interpreted as “I submit to this truth”. This is not a response of resignation or of acceptance. It is a recognition that there is a truth here that may not be avoided. Grief cannot become an excuse for turning our eyes away from what we must learn.
What is the truth here?
Is there a truth that we need to explore that will illuminate the alienation too many suffer, so that some among us lose capacity for human empathy and pain?
Is there some truth in the lack of willingness many of us feel to confront the harshness of the culture which causes Americans to turn to the use of guns?
Is there some truth that must be confronted in the lack of willingness on both sides of the gun debate to be thoughtful, rather than defiant?
Jewish tradition does not say that there is no evil in the world, nor do we shrink from the truth that much evil is done by us human beings to each other. But Jewish teachings do assert that the entire world is supported by learning, by prayer, and by acts of loving kindness. We are to react by learning what we can, praying on it so as to understand, and acting for kindness, for love, and for truth.
The days are still growing shorter as we observe the final nights of Hanukkah; and we must assert the necessity of the lights we kindle. We Jews know as well as anyone what it means to carry on despite terrible tragedy; we will celebrate with our children and know an even greater sense of gratitude for their lives, and determination to face any truth to make all children safe.