Last Sunday night, in our home, we watched the interfaith memorial service held in Newtown at which President Obama spoke. Immediately following the service, I turned to the Showtime series “Homeland.” Later that night, I posted this thought on facebook: “At the beginning of the episode of Homeland tonight on Showtime, a message on the screen noted that some of the content of the show might be too violent in light of the events in Connecticut on Friday, and then it said, ‘Viewer discretion is advised.’ Sometimes we may feel that way about life - that we don't want to see what's out there because it is too overwhelming - but we still have to look...and help.”
A friend in Topeka, Kansas responded to my post just a few minutes later with a note about a story that made national news on Monday morning...She said:
“This relates to Topekans tonight as we listen to the police helicopter and sirens searching for a man that killed two Police Officers outside a local grocery store. Robo calls have been letting residents know there is a massive manhunt in central Topeka. Prayers for safety, for the fallen, their families and no more senseless violence. Hold your loved ones close, always.” The gunman was later found and killed in a standoff with police.
As these tragedies continued to sink in, NBC reported on Tuesday morning that NBC reporter Richard Engel and his crew had just been freed by Syrian rebels from a Shiite Militia group loyal to the Assad Regime. As I watched part of Savanna Guthrie’s interview of this reporting team this morning, Richard Engel mentioned that they all thanked the rebels who freed them, but the group, which was religiously based, said that they didn’t deserve thanks. “This was God,” they said, as they took the NBC crew to safety.
That statement, “This is God,” reminded me of a verse in this week’s Torah reading. Joseph had just revealed his identity to his brothers. He said, “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold to Egypt; and now, don’t be troubled, don’t be chagrined because you sold me here, for it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. There have already been two years of famine in the land, and there remain five more years without plowing or harvesting. So God sent me ahead of you to assure your survival in the land, and to keep you alive for a great deliverance.”
All that has happened in the last week represents but a few of the many examples and consequences of violence that persist in our world. We may not be able to stop every attack like those that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut, and earlier this year in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, or at the Sikh Temple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But the words of the Talmud direct us to take action. “Whoever destroys one life, it is considered as if he or she destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he or she saved an entire world.” And the rabbis tell us, “It is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
So what we do now is up to us. I believe that God’s voice and guidance should lead us to save lives and to offer comfort. It should remind us that what is important is not political power but sensible policies that will less frequently put weapons into hands that could inevitably cause destruction. The power we have within us can preserve life with a great deliverance, if only we make that choice.
In the coming days, may we encourage our leaders to make wise decisions. And may we, ourselves, build a close, caring and warm community and nation that will offer the support necessary to keep us all, as much as possible, safe and secure as we continue our journey towards a future filled with light and hope.