A Response to the Shootings at Tree of Life

The murders that occurred on Saturday were a miscarriage of free will. There is nothing redeemable about using our free will to destroy. Fortunately, for us, God has created a world that can withstand our misuse of free will. While the world might be able to withstand these acts of free will, can we?

What do we do when somebody, one person, violates the rules and standards that we hold sacred? We remember. We remember that there is more good in this world then there is evil. We remember that it was one gunman and a congregation full of people who gathered in love and camaraderie. It is one person who thought destruction is the answer. One person in this case against hundreds and thousands of people who have gathered across the country in the last few days to say we believe in love. There are more of us who believe in a world that is predicated on building and creation against those who would destroy and break down to get their way. By being in this room we make a statement that there are more people in this world who believe in being good and a part of society than there are those who believe in and condone chaos and destruction.

We need to remember that individuals do not make history, people do. The only way individuals make history is when the majority of people in the world who are good do not stand up against the few who are evil. When we do not stand up and say no, not in my world, then and only then do the evil ones get a voice. Together we have a voice that is more powerful because there are more of us. Together our voices will rise above and drown out those individuals who use hate, fear, and anger as weapons. Together we can shape history. We can, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “bend the arc of history towards justice.” We can win this fight by speaking up and focusing on the good. Focus on love. Focus on kindness. Focus on being our best selves. Focus on showing up.

The world is a good place where bad things happen. “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”  Do not let the few mad change your opinion of how good the world actually is. There is more love and good in this world than there is evil. When we come together like we are tonight, we remind ourselves of that fact. Do what you know is right. Be compassionate. Be loving. Hate begets hate. Love in response to hate vanquishes hate.

We're not Jews and Christians, or immigrants or citizens. We are human beings first and we need to start treating each other accordingly. Our religious faiths guide us towards one noble truth that we are all created in the image of God. We might have different ways of getting to God but at the end of the day there is more that unites us than that which divides us.

My response to the community in the face of the tragedy was to send out my sermon from Yom Kippur on Joy. Some might have thought this was not the appropriate response. But joy must be the response. When things are good, we need joy.  When things are bad, we need to use joy as an act of opposition, as an act of defiance against evil and anger. Joy is a weapon we wield against the ills of society.

These words are from Rabbi Myers of The Tree of Life synagogue from the Friday night before these tragic events, “There is a story told in the Talmud of a wedding procession and a funeral procession heading along parallel roads, with the roads intersecting. The question asked is: when they meet at the fork, which procession goes first, funeral or wedding? The correct answer is wedding, as the joy of the couple takes precedence. In fact, the funeral procession is to move out of sight so that their joy is not lessened. Every birthday celebration unobserved is one less opportunity in your tank. And when those finite moments are lost, they are not regained so easily.” Rabbi Myers ended his post by stating, “While death is inevitable and a part of life, we still take our leave with the best possible blessing, to meet at joyous events.”

The use of joy as an appropriate response does not change because of a tragedy. In fact, a tragedy such as this tests our resolve. It forces us to ask ourselves, “Can I choose love and joy over anger and fear?”

We are not going to change the world in the way we want by responding to this tragedy the way we always do: with anger, fear and sadness. We need to stop pointing fingers. We all need to change our behavior. We need to turn our fists into handshakes. We need to greet the stranger with a smile instead of mistrust. Using joy and love as a weapon is the only way that we will ever change anything.

A man came to a rabbi and said teach me the whole Torah on one foot. The rabbi said, “Love your neighbor as yourself the rest is commentary.” We responded to the hate in this world by loving ourselves first. Then, and only then, can we can love our neighbors. Love who you are, you are holy. As God says in Exodus, Kadosh Tehiu. “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Love yourselves as the holy vessels you are. Only when you love yourself can you love others. If we commit to loving ourselves and choosing joy then all of a sudden it becomes a self-perpetuating loop. You start by loving yourselves and loving the other. Then, the other loves themselves because they've been loved by others. And that is how we spread love and joy in this world. Love and joy become a contagious virus that will change the world.

We've tried to hate evil. We have tried anger towards evil. What we have never fully committed to is love and joy in response to evil. Love is harder than hate. Love is slower than hate and anger. It is always easier to destroy than it is to build. This insidious evil is not going to get fixed in a day, in a week, a month, or even a year. But if we commit today to insidious love over insidious hate, and really commit to it as a behavior, not just a knowledge base but a behavior, then we will be amazed at where we are in 10 years. Let Cheshire be the example of a community that prioritizes love over hate. Let us be a shining beacon to all those who would rather destroy than build. The murderer on Saturday chose to use his free will to destroy. We are going to use our free will to build and create a better world through love and joy. Amen