The horrific school shooting in Connecticut has reignited a debate on gun control. Judaism does not have a particular policy prescription or political view. What we do have is an insightful story of cultural transformation.
Sword Fights on the Sabbath
It emerged in a debate 2000 years ago over a seemingly minute question. The question was whether or not individuals can wear a sword on the sabbath.
Those who permitted it argued that wearing a sword is like wearing a clothing accessory today. It is an ornament, a symbol of honor and dignity.
Other rabbis challenged this view. A sword is not merely an ornament, they argued. It is a symbol of warfare. Such symbol of war undermines the spirit of holiness and peace of Shabbat.
The pro-sword group won this round of the debate.
A New Debate
Another group of rabbis, however, revisited it 300 years later. They returned to the question of whether a sword could really be considered a symbol of honor and dignity. “Where’s the proof?” they asked.
In response, one rabbi cited a verse from the Book of Psalms: “Gird your sword upon your side, O mighty one, in your splendor and glory.” (Psalms 45:4) This verse proves that the Bible considers idea the sword an ornamental symbol of “splendor and glory.”
His opponents’ response shows us a stunning transformation in Jewish culture. The “sword of splendor and glory,” they argued, does not refer to an actual physical sword. Rather, it refers to the word of God. A sword symbolizes the power and strengthen of God’s teachings.
The Book and the Sword
Isn’t this a bit of a stretch? How can one say that a sword really means God’s word? The reason lies in a profound story of history.
During the 300 years between the two debates, the Jewish people underwent a transformation. A society where violence and warfare was common became one sustained by the community and study. New challenges had demanded a new response.
No longer was carrying a sword necessary, wise or symbolic of “glory and splendor.” Rather, protecting a culture and way of life depended on studying and internalizing God’s word. That was the source of true strength.
A Changing America
Perhaps America is undergoing a similar transformation. The time when the Second Amendment was written was one marked by constant violence and warfare. It served to protect our emerging nation from its many external enemies.
Maintaining our society today rests on much more than firearms. It rests on the ability to teach and sustain respect, compassion and the freedom to learn and live without fear.
We need to learn that physical resources are not our only source of strength. We also need spiritual sensitivity, educational access and moral depth. We need the strength to grow and address the needs and challenges of today.
By Evan Moffic,
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