Message From Rabbi Gold

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PARSHAT TETZAVEH
WEAPONS AS ORNAMENTS

“You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother for glory and for adornment.”  (Exodus 28:2)

 

       This has been a horrific week.  Less than two miles from my home, at the high school my son attended, 17 students and teachers were murdered by a deeply disturbed former student.  Many others were wounded, and even students unharmed physically were emotionally scarred.  I am a volunteer chaplain with the Broward Sheriff and was called down to the local hospital to meet with families.  There I sat with parents whose children were in surgery and parents still awaiting word about their youngsters.  Two of the families I visited lost their children that day, and I attended both funerals.  I was one among over a thousand mourners.

       Students are angry.  There is a movement building momentum for government to take action on guns in our country.  A busload of students went to Tallahassee to speak with the governor of Florida, while others are going to Washington D.C.  I am skeptical that the government will act on gun control, but perhaps if enough people are vocal enough, there will be some action.  Without going into the details of the second amendment debate, I want to share some thoughts on the American love affair with guns.  But first let us turn to our Torah portion.

       The Torah speaks about the clothing worn by Aaron and his sons as they fulfilled the duties of the priesthood.  At the very beginning, it speaks of various pieces of clothing the priest wore for glory and adornment.  The Talmud raises a fascinating question.  If someone wears a weapon, is that considered an adornment?  In a time when people wore swords and spears and armor, were these considered adornments like jewelry.  The issue is raised regarding wearing a weapon on the Jewish Sabbath.  There is an argument between Rabbi Eliezer and the Sages.  Let me share the Mishnah (Shabbat 6.4).

       “A man may not go out with a sword, nor with a bow, nor with a shield, nor with a round shield, nor with a spear [on the Sabbath]. If he has gone out [with any of these] he is liable for a sin offering. Rabbi Eliezer says: They are ornaments for him. But the Sages say: They are nothing but an indignity, for it is said, `They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears unto pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (Isaiah 2:4).'”

       Later the Maccabees would rule that one may wear a weapon on the Sabbath in time of war.  This become a vital issue when Israel was attacked on Yom Kippur 1973, and had to carry weapons to go to war.  Nonetheless, Jewish tradition has rejected the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer.  No one thinks that a weapon, a sword in ancient times or a gun today, as an ornament.  Israel has some of the strictest gun laws in the world, despite that fact that every healthy Israeli goes into the military and learns to carry a gun, and equally important, to respect a gun.  For example, if someone in Israel gets a permit to have a weapon and that weapon is stolen from their home, they are liable and can go to jail.  Weapons are taken seriously; they are not ornaments.

       Here in the United States I think that we agree with Rabbi Eliezer, our guns are like ornaments, or perhaps to use a better word, like fetishes.  A fetish is an object regarded with awe, almost as something spiritual.  That is why we demand the right to buy weapons including military grade weapons without limitation.  That is why we can still buy a semi-automatic weapon and legally buy a bump stock to make it into an automatic weapon.  That is why a deeply disturbed 19-year-old man, too young to buy a beer, could acquire an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle legally at a gun shop.  We love our guns.

       We Americans need reasonable gun control.  But equally important, we need to change our attitude towards guns.  We can learn from Israel.  Guns are not ornaments.  They are not holy objects.  They are objects that can destroy and need to be treated with care and respect.   If the awful events of our local high school this past week can start us rethinking our love of deadly weapons, it would be a step in the right direction.  Meanwhile, I can only pray for healing and comfort for all the victims of this awful event.

ADULT EDUCATION

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May you and your family have a  joyous, restful Shabbat.