Saturday, December 14, 2013

A New King: Forgetfulness and Gun Violence

December 14, 2013

My Dear Friends,

I write this post just before sunset on a beautiful Shabbat afternoon in San Diego.  I am attending the Biennial Convention of the Union for Reform Judaism and the Women for Reform Judaism, along with about 14 other members and staff of Temple Emanuel.   There are approximately 5,000 delegates from all over the world attending this Biennial. It has been an amazing experience up until now and I will be writing more about it in future blog posts and sermons.  This afternoon, however, my thoughts are focused on the fact that, once again, our beloved city of Denver has become the focus of world attention with the occurrence of yet another act of gun violence.

Normally, I refrain from writing and posting Blogs on Shabbat.  Since I was unable to be with the congregation last night and this morning, I now feel a need to share my thoughts with you.

This morning, we finished reading the book of  Bereshit (Genesis).  This afternoon and throughout the week to come we will begin a new chapter of Torah - Shemot (Exodus).  In Shemot 1:8 we find the following:

Vayakam Melech Chadash al Mitrayim asher lo yada et Yosef
A new king rose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.

The rabbis ask a question:  "How long did it take until the memory of Joseph was forgotten?"  Some say that it took an entire generation, others say that it was only a few years.  But there is one Midrash that states that the legacy of Joseph only lasted for a short while - during the 7 years of famine.  In other words, it wasn't a new Pharaoh at all - it was the same leader who, once Joseph's services were no longer needed, cast him and his memory aside.  Joseph's legacy of planning for the future - of caring for the long-term vision of Egypt's survival - was burdensome and, as such,  replaced with the old system of profligate spending and irresponsible governance that preceded Pharaoh's dreams of famine and plenty.  This, in turn, led to the enslavement of the Children of Israel.

How could Pharaoh not remember all of the good that Joseph had brought to Egypt?  Why would he see the Children of Israel as a threat and not an asset?  The answer lies in the fact that society tends to reject new thinking until there is no other choice.  Unless and until we are confronted with a crisis and change becomes the only route we can follow, our instincts are to follow the path of least resistance.   All too often, when an immediate crisis is over, the need for urgent change falls away - at least until the next crisis arises.

What relevance does this have to the horrible acts of violence that took place at Arapahoe High School yesterday?  To start with, this event occurred on the one year anniversary of the school shootings in Newtown Connecticut.  If you recall, in the immediate aftermath of that horrible tragedy, there was a call for action against gun violence.  The horror we all felt as we helplessly watched the heart wrenching stories of death, destruction and heroism that took place at the Sandy Hook Elementary school (especially in light of the memory of Aurora) caused us to search deep in our souls and try to comprehend the root causes of violence.  Our state Legislature passed laws that called for stricter controls on firearms.  And then, as our passions cooled and attention was focused elsewhere, opponents of gun control took action.  They were vituperative and effective.  The smear campaigns against vulnerable legislators were swift and unyielding.  The backers of  recall campaigns against those who supported ANY limits on firearms put these elected officials in their sights, took aim and fired.  They flexed their muscles and took no prisoners.  The horrific images of Sandy Hook and Aurora were replaced by the victory dances of the Gun Lobby.  The rhetoric became increasingly more defamatory.  The polarization grew.  And nothing was changed.

So today, here we sit - feeling the pain of yet another senseless act of violence inflicted upon and by our children.  We put aside the pain of the recent past in favor of political posturing and, once again, we find ourselves replaying the tapes and reliving the grief that accompanies tragedy.

Vayakam Melech Chadash al Mitrayim asher lo yada et Yosef
A new king rose over Egypt who did not know Joseph

The time has come for us to put aside our selective memories and work - TOGETHER - from all sides - to find a way to address this epidemic of violence.  Legislation is not the only answer; but neither is it the problem.  Better access to mental health services that will both provide help to those who are suffering and identify potential problems before they occur is yet another path that must be pursued.  We need to bring ll sides to the table to stop the killing.  Unless and until we admit the fact that we are in a crisis,  every moment that we delay brings the next senseless tragedy one step closer.

Pray for the families of the children affected by this most recent tragedy.  But, at the same time, pray that we might remember how we feel right now, and use that memory to affect real change.
Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Joe Black

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