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Let's Create Life!

02/22/2018 11:08:32 AM

Feb22

We are still in a state of pain and disbelief about the horrific school shootings in Parkland FL last week, which claimed the lives of 17 people, and injured many others.

Fingers of blame are being pointed in many directions – the NRA, the school, the FBI, our politicians, and many other systems.

No system is ever perfect, and each one of these entities have room for improvement. We urge for, and support, any measures that ensure better protection for our children.

In addition, the Torah teaches us to consider 3 things:

  1. Instead of asking the reactive question of ‘why did this happen?’, we ought to ask ourselves the proactive question of ‘what can I do to help?’
  2. We must dig deep to understand the heart of the issue and to create an effective solution.
  3. We ought to look into our own lives to discover how we can be the change we wish to see in the world.

Sadly, murder has been a reality in our world since its very beginning. In just the second generation of humanity, Cain murdered his brother Abel, both the children of Adam & Eve. There seems to be good reason why the Torah felt it necessary to prohibit murder.

Our Sages teach us that there are many shades of death, each one as grave as the other. As the Talmud often asks rhetorically, “What difference does it make if we are discussing full death or partial death?”

Besides for the obvious definition of death, when a beating heart stops, there are other forms of death. Here are two examples from the Talmud:

  1. “Anyone who speaks negatively about another person (lashon-hara) kills three people: the one who shared the gossip, the one who heard it, and the one who was spoken about (Talmud Eruchin 15b).”
  2. “Anyone who humiliates another in public, it is as though he spilled their blood (Talmud Bava Metzia 58b).”

So we see that murder isn’t only when a physical life has been terminated. When a person harms another’s reputation, or self-esteem, that too is just like murder.

In contrast to the prohibition against murder, we are commanded to create life. Typically, this is achieved by giving birth to children. But just as there are many forms of murder, there are similarly many other ways to create life. Here are two examples from the Talmud:

  1. Whoever raises an orphaned child in their home it is as if they gave birth to them (Talmud Megillah 13a).”
  2. Whoever teaches Torah to a student it is as if they gave birth to them (Talmud Sanhedrin 19b).”

So, life and death aren’t just terms that describe one’s physiological state, but also descriptions of one’s psychological and spiritual wellbeing.

This idea has profound implications for both how we treat ourselves, and how we treat others.

Regarding ourselves, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, once wrote a teaching he heard from his father: “When we study Torah and align our beliefs with Jewish values, we resurrect our minds. When we nurture loving relationships with G-d and with others, we resurrect our hearts. When we go out of our way to help a person in need, we resurrect our bodies.”

Regarding how we treat others, the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, once taught: “The first mitzvah in the Torah is “be fruitful and multiply.” This also means that each person is charged with the mandate to inspire another person, to help breathe purpose and peace into the life of another. And this is the first – and most primary – mitzvah in the Torah!”

When we mistreat somebody, or turn a blind eye to a person in need, or ruin a person’s opportunities, or put somebody down, we need to realize that we are – in a sense – killing them. We scar their spiritual, mental, emotional or physical wellbeing.

When we extend a compliment to someone, and concern ourselves with another person’s needs, and offer an inspiring teaching, and paint a smile on someone’s face, we ought to realize that we are literally restoring life in them. We help increase their confidence and sense of self-worth.

Framing life and death not only in black and white physiological terms, but also in terms of enhancing or diminishing the quality of life, can affect a radical and positive shift in us all. We will become more aware of the consequences of our actions, more sensitive and empathetic to others, and more eager to extend a loving hand to a person in need.

We feel speechless when we think about the horrific shootings last week. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims. So much darkness invaded our world. Though we can never bring those 17 innocent souls back to life, we must find a take-away that will empower us to counter the darkness and to create even more life in our world.

With sadness and optimism, grief and hope,

Rabbi Eliezer Wolf

Wed, December 19 2018 11 Tevet 5779