Rabbi Nanus's Shabbat Message - July 15, 2022

  • Clergy
  • Shabbat

My sister, two brothers, and I were born and grew up in Chicago. After college, for various reasons, three of us moved to New York but my brother Arthur remained in our hometown. He was the first of us to get married and subsequently had three sons. When they grew up, one son also moved to New York but the other two stayed in Chicago, got married, and had three children each.

In the past couple of years, both of my Chicago nephews bought homes in Highland Park, Illinois, a beautiful peaceful suburb where fifty percent of the population is Jewish. They live on streets filled with young families, are members of a thriving synagogue, send their children to excellent public schools, and have forged meaningful friendships with their neighbors. It seemed to be an idyllic existence. The American dream.

Then, a little over a week ago, my brother Arthur, his two sons and daughters-in-law, and his six grandchildren all went to the Highland Park Fourth of July Parade. And the dream turned into a nightmare. A nightmare that has been experienced by countless other communities in our country. A nightmare that suddenly felt very up close and personal.

Thank God, they all emerged unhurt, but when the shooting began, they were in the thick of it. As people scattered in all directions, my nephew Josh could not find his four-year-old daughter. His wife became terrified and hysterical. Gripping the hands of his other two children, Josh searched frantically and spied their daughter several feet away, standing alone on the street corner, looking around, confused. He strode over, lifted her into his arms, and said as calmly as he could, “Come on, honey, it’s time to go,” and hurried his family away, their sense of safety and well-being shattered forever.

An hour later, my brother texted me a cryptic message: “We are all okay.” I had no idea what he was talking about until I hurriedly called him and learned about their horrifying experience. Seven people had been killed – two parents shielding the body of their two-year-old toddler, a mother of two daughters, loving grandparents, a Synagogue preschool teacher, and a family visitor from out of town. Countless others had been wounded, ranging in age from 8 to 85, including Cooper Roberts, an eight-year-old boy whose spinal cord was severed, and happens to be in the same Sunday School class as one of my brother’s grandchildren. 

Uvalde. Tulsa. Buffalo. Chicago. Detroit. Brooklyn.

In 2022, there have already been 309 mass shootings in the U. S. 

In 2022, the number of deaths by gun violence is 23,524.

We are sad. We are horrified. We are filled with despair. But where is our shame? Where is our outrage? Where is our voice?

Our Sages teach that “to destroy a life is as if you have destroyed the entire world.” They also teach that “when you save one life, it is as if you have saved the entire world.”

That life, that world, could be yours. Or your family’s. Or your neighbor’s or closest friends. That life, that world could be lost. Or saved. It really depends on what we do now.

How long are we going to allow our worlds to be threatened with destruction? How long are we going to allow a small, sick fraction of our society to rain death and violence and anger and hatred on the rest of us? Most people are kind; most people are good. We only have to look at the outpouring of help, support, generosity, and love for the victims after a tragedy occurs. But after the tragedy is too late. The destruction has already occurred, with almost no possibility of repair.

To save a life, we must act before the next tragedy. We must work to prevent more loss of life, preserve our world, and not just pick up the shattered pieces. 
It is up to you and me. 

The latest killer purchased a high-powered rifle legally simply by crossing state lines. 23,524 worlds destroyed in just the last six months! Not to mention their grief-stricken families and friends. 

If you believe as I do that we must insist on legislation that includes universal background checks and the banning of assault weapons, each of us must stop waiting for someone else to make the changes we all want to happen.

We can call, write, march, vote, or speak up. One voice may not make a difference, but there are millions of us who want sane, practical, safe gun laws, and we can no longer afford to be the silent majority. There is no such thing as them and us. No one is safe from these shootings. They threaten all of us. Uvalde is us. Highland Park is us. Personally, Highland Park is me.

The Torah teaches, “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.”

The Talmud teaches, “You are not obliged to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.” 

The Kabbalah teaches that all human beings are part of one great soul, each one of us possessing a spark of Divine light. 

From this, we learn that we must act to protect each other, that each one of us has a part to play in repairing the world, and that when we offer light and healing to others, we illuminate and heal ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom with love,