Rabbi Rich’s Reflections on the Pittsburgh Attack

I wanted to share a few thoughts with you about this past Shabbat’s deadly attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA.

First and foremost I want to encourage us all to pray. Let’s pray for the grieving relatives and friends of those whose lives were taken:

Daniel Stein, 71; Joyce Feinberg, 75; Richard Gottfried, 65; Rose Mallinger, 97; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; brothers Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and David Rosenthal 54; husband and wife Bernice Simon, 84 and Sylvan Simon, 86; Melvin Wax, 88; and Irving Younger, 69.

Think of the children of these, our brothers and sisters. Think of their grandchildren. Think of the Jewish community of Squirrel Hill – a community which will never be the same again.

Then, let’s consider our lives. Though the positive motivations are many for us Jewish believers in Yeshua to take seriously our commitment to Jewish life, sometimes active resistance against evil is an appropriate response. We don’t want Hitler to have his posthumous victory by our losing our Jewishness. Similarly, we do not want to give anti-Semites such as this gunman in Pittsburgh or others like him any reason to doubt that “Am Yisrael Chai” – the people of Israel live! And we will live!

Finally, I urge us all to avoid the trap of assigning blame for such horrors to one individual or one societal political or social cause. The fact is that anti-Semitic as well as anti-Christian words, images and acts have been increasing in recent decades throughout the world. We can catalogue a number of reasons – economic disequilibrium, the effects of man migration (think attacks on Jews in Paris), thoughtless political rhetoric emerging from different of the political spectrum, etc. But imagining that we can point the finger to one individual, one political party or one cause will not be helpful. If anything, the polarization with comes from such thinking actually contributes to the problem of mistrust and hatred.

Our answer – not ours, but the one passed on to us Ya’akov (James) in Scripture – “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry.” And let us all be encouraged by the Master’s words spoken to his Talmidim (followers) shortly before his arrest and execution: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

My instincts tell me that at least in the short term, incidents like this one may be repeated. Let us strengthen ourselves so we can strengthen others. After all, we are the Jewish followers of the One who knew well unjust suffering – the One who will one day banish all such suffering forever.

Rabbi Rich Nichol

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