In light of the horror at Virginia Tech this week, I wanted to say something about a possible Jewish response.
There is a Jewish prayer that is said when taking a journey, T’fillat Haderekh. A line from that prayer seems to speak loudly as of late.
“Bring us to our desired destination in life, in gladness and peace and protect us from all enemies, from ambush, wild beasts, and all sorts of mishaps.”
We say these words as we embark into the unknown, leaving the safety of the place we call home. However, as we go through routines of our day we don’t anticipate the dangers that we see in these words. There are places that we feel safe our homes, our schools, our houses of worship. Repeated instances of tragedy shake our souls and remind us of the dangers of the world. On Monday at Virginia Tech, we saw once again the safety shattered. We were reminded of the ever-present possibility of horror.
But knowing that horror is possible should not force us away from community. The Great Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav said, “The whole world is a narrow bridge. The main thing is not to be afraid”. It is hard today not to be afraid, as we see the pictures of how a single person can cut down so many, at a place we all thought safe. But our sorrow at the loss should not just make us afraid, but revive our need to reach out to others.
Judaism calls us to social responsibility. Our values teach us a way to live, even in an uncertain world: Al tifrosh min hatzebur, do not separate yourself from the community. Kol Yisrael arevim zeh b’zeh, all of Israel is responsible for one another, and we extend this to the non-Jewish world that we share, as we see everyone created b’tzelem elohim in the image of God. We thus act for our sake and for the sake of peace mipnai darkai shalom.
Perhaps a way to deal with the fear and anger is to look in our own worlds for those individuals lost to the community. We can ask our children what or whom they fear in the world. What wild beasts they see in the places we always thought free of them. I hope that as we continue each day we aren’t frightened to embrace the greatness of God’s creation, in an attempt to avoid the fear within.