It’s senseless as it’s so sad. What else can we say? The assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the murder of Chief Judge John Role, of 4 innocent bystanders: Dorothy Morris, Phyllis Scheck, Dorwan Stoddard, Gabe Zimmerman, and of 9 year old Christina Taylor Green, the wounding of others, it’s senseless as it’s so sad. No one should claim anything else.
A disturbed person carried out his cruel plan. Our hearts ache for the victims, for their community, and for our society. We know we are better than this. We also know that being human is both precious and precarious. It is precisely because of the uncertainties we face that we seek faith, meaning, and our relationships with one another.
We do not live in this world to grieve and to suffer, though we do both too often. We are here to love and to nurture, to fulfill the purposes of our creation. As a result, two things ought to capture our attention after last Saturday’s tragedy in Tucson.
First, we have to pay attention to each other. We have to pay attention to those whom we know, and to those whom we meet but do not include in our personal circles of family and friends. Every person craves relationships and respect. Every person deserves the dignity of our attention, even if just for a passing moment when we happen to meet him or her.
In a 19th century Biblical commentary, Rabbi Joseph Saul Nathanson of Jerusalem observes, “people tend to perceive an overt foe as being more of a threat than a hidden enemy, someone who feels hate and confusion in his heart.” We may not prevent all bad behaviors born of emotional distress or imbalance, but we will create a healthier social community for most people.
Second, remember that thousands of violent crimes are committed in our nation every year. Some of them get our collective attention more than others. That too is sad. Every life is precious. Every loss is tragic.
From the very beginning, Jewish tradition understands violence against a human being as degrading. It results from frustration or anger, from isolation or abandonment, from mental anguish or fear. After Tucson, we again ask ourselves how to address these conditions.
In Pirkei Avot, Ben Zoma asks, “Who is a hero?” He answers, “One who tames his inclination to evil.” In Tucson they speak of heroes. They speak of congressional staffers, relatives and local citizens, first responders and doctors who saved lives, who put themselves at risk, and who made this horror less horrible.
Someday, I hope we also can speak of heroes as Ben Zoma does. Our responsibility is to foster a social environment that elevates our better instincts and checks our baser inclinations. On the way, we pray that the injured heal, that the bereaved find comfort, and that genuine caring and goodness result from this senseless sadness.