Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

How To End Gun Violence: A Lesson from Jewish History

Religion and gun violence

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,

GET A FREE EBOOK: HOW TO FORGIVE EVEN WHEN IT HURTS. http://bit.ly/U6pA1G

Is It OK To Tell Your Children They Are Safe?

telling kids they are safe

The Bible’s most oft-repeated words are “Do not fear.” Yet, in the wake of the horror in Connecticut, how can we not?

Five-and six-year old children were brutally murdered in what most thought was a safe and innocent place. Is it possible now to live without some measure of fear?

A Brave New World

This debate pervaded several sessions I led with parents and grandparents in my community this week. Often the discussion revolved around how to talk to children.

Is it okay to tell them they are safe? How do we protect them without misleading them?

As a parent of young children and as a rabbi, I struggled with this issue and benefitted from the wisdom and experiences I heard. Here are some of the ideas that resonated:

1.  Parents need to be the key communicators: Children have a unique relationship with their parents. Hearing the news first from friends or teachers or even grandparents is not ideal. Parents are usualy most attuned to their children’s feelings, and can present what happened and correct misimpressions in a way no one else can.

2. Remember to focus on the kids, not just yourself: We are all shaken up and devastated by what happened. We probably need to process our feelings and will deal with them for a while.

While some children share our feelings, they may get over it much faster. Kids’ primary focus is themselves, and as one Harvard psychologist pointed out, they may quickly move on to something that affects them more directlyl. That’s okay.

3. Honor their needs: While adults may understand and appreciate all the risks we face in life every day, children’s needs are dofferent. They need to feel a degree of safety that allows them to learn and function and grow. We need to remind ourselves and our children that acts of violence on this scale are exceedingly rare.

4. Talk about mental health: This is a hard one, especially for kids. We adults may even find it difficult and uncomfortable to talk about it. But we must.

The more we can talk about and recognize that some people have problems that aren’t physical but can still be treated, the more dignified and humane a society we will become.

5. Do not let fear get in the way of life: The Bible’s repeated injunction of “Do not fear” reminds us of how old and powerful fear can be. Sometimes it is a useful emotion. For example, we need to fear oncoming cars when we are crossing at the street.

At the same time, fear can be debilitating and destructive. Too often fear becomes the acronym I once heard: False Expectations AppearingReal.

We need to be pragmatic and protective of the most vulnerable members of our society. Yet, we also need the courage to live.

Let us take guidance from the wise words of the eighteenth-century Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, “The whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important part is not to be afraid.” 

By Evan Moffic,

Get Inspired. Make Better Decisions. Live With Fewer Regrets.

Get More from Rabbi Moffic, including A FREE EBOOK: HOW TO FORGIVE EVEN WHEN IT HURTS

God’s Tears Are Our Own: How To Respond to the Horror of the School Shooting in Connecticut

Franz Kafka tells the story of a little girl who was late arriving home one day. Her mother asked her where she was. The girl said that she saw her friend Ruthie on her way home, and Ruthie’s doll had broken.

“Did you help her fix it?” her mother asked. “No,” the girl replied, “I don’t know how to fix it. I stopped to help her cry.”

Shock

As we hear the news about the horrific school shooting in Connecticut, we can sympathize with Kafka’s little girl. We do not know how to fix, or even explain, the evil that causes a person to shoot innocent young children. We stand in shock, in pain, in bewildernment.

We turn to one another and ask “What can we do? How can we bring God’s healing presence into this moment?”

Collecting the Pieces

Perhaps we can take some guidance from the words of the 18th century Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. He once saw a man whose house had burnt down. The man had been crying terribly about his losses.

As he began looking through the rubble, he found bits and pieces of wood and metal to start rebuilding. One by one he made a pile of pieces.

Rabbi Nathan said, “See how he is collecting pieces to rebuild. Even when we think there is no hope, we are already collecting pieces to rebuild.”

It will take a long time to collect the pieces we need to rebuild. With open hearts and ready hands, we need to start now.

By Evan Moffic,

Get Inspired. Make Better Decisions. Live With Fewer Regrets.

Get More from Rabbi Moffic, including A FREE EBOOK: HOW TO FORGIVE EVEN WHEN IT HURTS

http://bit.ly/U6pA1G

The Spiritual Wisdom of the Beatles

A favorite song to accompany brides down the wedding aisle is the Beatles’ “In My Life.” It’s a song about the past meeting the present. It’s a song about how the singer has been formed by all his past experiences in life.

Consider the lyrics: “There are places I remember all my life, though some have changed. Some forever, not for better. Some have gone, and some remain. All these places had their moments. With lovers and friends, I still can recall. Some our dead and some are living. In my life, I’ve loved them all.”

The Journey of Love

Of course, the point of the song is that all those experiences pale in comparison to the feeling of love he has now. Yet, part of the beauty and attraction of the song for many is the recognition that we are the result of our experiences in life. They shape us. They never leave.

As Faulkner put it, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Our lives are journeys shaped by the roads we have taken.

The Journey of Faith

Now in the Beatles song, the goal, the end point of the journey, is love of a particular person. For people of faith, the goal of the journey is a life of growth, of wisdom, of love of knowledge, truth and humanity. Ultimately, the goal is to learn and live by God’s ways, which, as the prophet Micah put it, are “to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy god.”

This journey can be difficult. Like the ancient Israelites, we have to wander for many many years. And the longer we wander, the more we realize how far we still have to go.

This notion is captured in the recollection Rabbi Israel Salanter, one of the great rabbis of the nineteenth century: “When I was young,” he said, “I wanted to change the world. I tried, but the world did not change. So I tried to change my town, but my town did not change. Then I turned to my family, but my family did not change. Then I realized: first I must change myself: and I am still trying.”

So are we all.

By Evan Moffic

GET A FREE EBOOK: HOW TO FORGIVE EVEN WHEN IT HURTS. http://bit.ly/U6pA1G

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