There are No Guns in Eden

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Two Facebook posts.

The first on Valentine's Day afternoon: "For those wondering, I have Jesse and he is Ok. We cannot reach Jaime. If anyone has a child who saw or spoke to Jaime please call me at ...."

The second at 7am the next day: "My heart is broken. Yesterday, [my wife] and I lost our baby girl to a violent shooting at her school. We lost our daughter and my son...lost his sister. I am broken as I write this trying to figure out how my family get's through this...Hugs to all and hold your children tight."

Those are the posts of Fred Guttenberg; a public snapshot of American gun violence.

I don't know about you, but I've been crying quite a bit since Wednesday. And I've also been trying to figure out anyway to not talk about this tonight–because I don't want to. I'm exhausted by gun violence, by our political system that enables it, by our collective inability to do anything about children being murdered with guns made for war. Since Columbine in 1999, school shootings have been the norm in our country. That's nearly 2/3 of my life and for those nearly 20 years, our country has done nothing.

And honestly, our tradition is pretty clear on the subject, as overt as "Thou shalt not kill."

Our rabbis teach in the Talmud that "A man may neither go out on Shabbat with a sword, nor with a bow, nor with a shield...nor with a spear...And the Rabbis say: [These weapons for ornamental purposes] are nothing other than reprehensible and in the future they will be eliminated, as it is written: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not raise sword against nation, neither will they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4).

And in an admittedly anti-second amendment teaching, the rabbis double down. The Talmud asks, Why not just let the weapons be merely for ornamental purposes, even if not needed for war? "Abaye says: It is just as in the case of a candle in the afternoon. Since its light is not needed, it serves no ornamental purpose. Weapons, too; when not needed for war, they serve no ornamental purpose either."

And I will be frank on this one: I will choose this Jewish wisdom over an outdated amendment every time. Every. Single. Time.

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Guns for fun, guns for ornamental purposes, guns for disillusioned safety even though statistics prove they make your home less safe - not one of these reasons is more valuable than hundreds of children's lives taken by machines of war.

This week in our parsha, Terumah, we read God's instruction to build the mishkan: "And let them make Me a Sanctuary (mishkan); that I may dwell among them" (Ex 25:8).

Rabbi Shai Held teaches that this mishkan, this very literal sanctuary, acts as "an island of Gan Eden in a decidedly non-Edenic world." "For the Torah, the Garden of Eden is the symbol of all good–birth and blessing, life and knowledge, order and communication–[all of] which can be found on earth." "The world in which we live [though], so suffused with suffering and predation, is a far cry indeed from the wholeness portrayed in Eden."

So then, what is the purpose of this mishkan? What is the purpose of our modern sanctuaries?  Certainly, on the one hand, they too are symbols of the good in the world. But they are also tools of inspiration. As Rabbi Held writes, "The Eden-like mishkan holds out the possibility that greater degrees of wholeness are possible even in the midst of an irreparably broken world."

So what do we do? How do we seek those greater degrees of wholeness and mend our world? We can glean some direction from a linguistic thread that Rabbi Held sews between Eden and the mishkan. He notes that Adam's purpose in the garden of Eden, the famous phrase, "To till and to tend," is used together in only three other places in the Torah, all of which describe the "tilling and tending" of the mishkan. Just as Eden needed tilling and the mishkan needed tending, so too does our broken world. God's presence doesn't magically appear in our world. God's prayers don't go answered if all we do is sit and pray.

The rabbis teach that "The Holy One's presence did not dwell among Israel until they did some work, for Torah says, "And let them make Me the Sanctuary that I shall dwell among them" (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, chapter 11).

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It's right in front of our faces. Only through action, only through standing up, only through speaking out, only through demanding change, will we ever meet God, will we ever leave a world for our children that's better than the one we inherited, will we ever honor the children who have been murdered over the past 20 years.

These 25 hours of Shabbat give us time to heal, recharge, and hug our loved ones. But tomorrow night when Shabbat ends, I hope you'll join me in transforming our prayer into action, and doing everything in our power to save lives.

Alex KressComment