It has been a few weeks since the Parkland, Florida shooting. As I study the parasha for this week, Ki Tisa, I find myself asking a troubling question, “Are we like Aaron?”
The Israelites in the desert were fearful, Moses had been gone for 40 days, and the uncertainty of their future terrified them. And so they said to Aaron, “Rise up, make for us gods that will go before us, for this man Moses who brought us up from the land of Egypt — we do not know what became of him!”
Aaron instructs them to remove the gold from their ears and their sons’ and their daughters’ and to bring it to him. He takes it and fashions it into a molten calf.
Meanwhile, Moses is up on Mount Sinai receiving the Torah and God tells him to hurry down, for your people “have become corrupt. They have strayed quickly from the way that I commanded them.”
As Moses returns to the camp, he hears the celebrations and sees his people dancing around the calf. Moses demands an answer from Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you brought a grievous sin upon it?”
Aaron’s answer: “Let not my master’s anger flare up. You know that the people are disposed toward evil. They said to me, ‘Make us a god that will go before us, for this man Moses who brought us up from the land of Egypt — we do not know what became of him.’ So I said to them, ‘Who has gold?’ They removed it and gave it to me. I threw it into the fire and this calf emerged.”
Aaron takes no responsibility for the destruction he has brought upon his people. Both Moses and Aaron know that the people have the capability, and sometimes the desire and the propensity to do evil. We cannot throw up our hands as does Aaron and say, “The calf just emerged from the gold. I didn’t do it, it isn’t my fault.”
We all must take responsibility. Now is the time. We must stand up and demand that our leaders change our laws to protect our children, our community, our nation. We do not have the luxury of throwing up our hands and doing nothing. Of saying, I didn’t do it, it isn’t my fault. It just emerged — it just happened. I am helpless.
We are not helpless.
Let us model ourselves after our heroes of the holiday we just celebrated — Purim. Mordechai and Esther learned of a plot to destroy all of the Jews of Shushan, to massacre their community. They did not stand idly by — they acted.
Our ancestors went to their officials, to their leaders, and pleaded their case. Esther said to the king, “If your majesty will do me the favor … let my life be granted me as my wish, and my people as my request. For we have been sold, my people and I, to be destroyed, massacred and exterminated.” These automatic weapons are destroying us, massacring us and exterminating us.
Many have heard of the wisdom and understanding of our Talmudic statement that explains that one who kills an individual kills an entire world. Have we permitted our leaders to distort our laws and values and enable individuals to buy weapons that decimated 17 worlds in six minutes in Florida and fired over 1,100 rounds of ammunition, killing 58 and injuring hundreds more in Las Vegas? Are we tolerating our leaders sitting back and allowing their empty words to stand as they say, “I can do nothing. It is not my fault”?
Our ancestors went to their leaders and pleaded for change. We must do the same.
You may have heard of the Jewish folklore of the man who remains in his house as the waters rise around him. A townsperson knocks on his door and says, “Come out, come out, the waters are rising, we must all get to safety.” The man replies, “God will save me” and closes his door. A few hours later a boat pulls up to the window of the man’s house and says, “Climb out of your window and into my boat. Hurry, we don’t have much time.” The man replies, “No, God will save me.” Finally, the waters have reached his roof and a helicopter flies overhead and sends down a ladder, “Hurry, hurry, this may be your last chance,” the people say over the megaphone to the man. Once again, the man replies, “No, I know that God will save me.” What happens next you might wonder … the man drowns.
Once in heaven, the man says to God, “What happened, I believed in you, I thought you would save me.” God said, “I tried, three times I tried. The first time I sent you a knock on the door, the second time a boat and finally, a helicopter.”
We are drowning. We must not accept mass shootings as our new reality. Judaism is a religion of action, not simply belief. We must act; write to our members of Congress, attend rallies, donate to organizations that are working to create common sense gun laws, make certain our college kids complete absentee ballots, and of course, vote. Judaism teaches us we must make our voices heard.
Let us not be like Aaron, helplessly throwing our hands up in the air, or like the man in our story, drowning in denial. Rather, let us be like Mordechai and Esther standing up for what we know is right to save our people. PJC
Rabbi Amy Greenbaum is associate rabbi of Beth El Congregation of the South Hills. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.