Another synagogue shooting, exactly six months from Tree of Life, on the last day of Pesah, the festival of our freedom. It’s hard to know what to say. Emotions run the gamut – horror, anguish, fury, fear, and more. How do we respond? What (if anything) is there to do?
The end of Pesah also marks the end of the first week of ‘Omer counting. The first week’s sefira (Divine attribute) is hesed – compassion. This new week’s sefira is gevurah – discipline or judgement. The shooting at the Chabad Center in Poway, California took place at the pivot point, the very moment of moving from hesed to gevurah, the exact time at which our tradition invites us to begin to reckon with what it means to be free.
A brand new Mavis Staples song puts it this way: “What good is freedom If we haven’t learned to be free?” Rav Kook, in his own style, invited a similar question writing nearly a century ago. Freedom, Rav Kook taught, is as much inner disposition as it is outer status. “Authentic freedom is the exalted spirit to which a person and a people as a whole are elevated so that one is faithful to one’s inner self, to the image of God that is within him/her.”
This week, a week of mourning for all of us, is also a week of learning to be free, of taking on the disciplines of freedom and justice. Let’s start by grieving with the family of Lori Gilbert Kaye z”l who stepped into the line of fire to protect her rabbi, himself injured in the attack. Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein’s words should haunt all of us in this week of Yom Hashoah: “It was horrific, utter horror; it was like images out of the Holocaust.”
How can that happen here? In America? In 2019? And yet, we know, painfully and terribly, that it can. Even in this deeply divided moment in our lives and in our country’s life, surely we can find a way to keep this from becoming the norm. I leave you with these words from Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention: “Every religious group feels vulnerable right now as the violence feels unpredictable and chaotic. We can disagree about all sorts of important things, even ultimate things, but surely every person ought to agree that no one should be gunned down in worship.”
Surely, indeed. As I write, the good people of Chabad of Poway are preparing to bring Lori Gilbert Kaye z”l to her place of eternal place. May her beloved soul be bound up in the bond of everlasting life. Amen.