The shooting at Douglas Stoneman High School has brought pain to so many. It brings to mind the reality that we all live with the thought that we are vulnerable. We have some control, but not much. Parents sent their kids to school, and they were murdered. Our world contains a great deal of chaos and violence and randomness. On the personal level, everyone’s experiences with themselves and their loved ones in relation to our reality has us profoundly aware of our vulnerability; accidents happen, we are victimized by evil, and sickness strikes. As we mature, we understand how little control we have.
I want to contextualize this in relation to our tradition. And before this Shabbat, specifically, connect it to Purim. It certainly cannot change these realities, but it may help to gain some perspective and point us in some direction.
As you know the story contains the antics of a notorious anti-Semite, who rose to power and determined that all the Jews should be destroyed. Randomly a date was chosen. Even the name “Purim” comes from “lots” or “lottery.” Evil murder and random timing are central to this story, like life itself. Interestingly, the tradition provides a few responses. One is, get drunk. The attitude suggests we eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow we will all die.
We realize how difficult it is to be in a world where anything can happen at any time. How nerve-racking it is to be in a world where so much is beyond our control. On the other hand, there are a few other mitzvot alluded to in the story and found in our obligation to the celebration of Purim. The first is, we come together to hear the reading, and connect to each other. And there are two other responses; Mishloah Manot, sending sweets to those around us and, Matanot Levyonim, giving gifts to the poor. In a chaotic world, we structure human connection, generosity, and care in order to make meaning out of potential despair.
I’m sure that our tradition is trying to help us organize life in a world which can be chaotic and cruel. It helps us move ahead with constructive deeds, and acts of kindness. We give from our hearts things which are sweet, and we give to the poor to help make their lives easier. Simply “the act of giving” alleviates some of the stress by our involvement in productive behavior. It enables us to create hope and create order in a world that can feel hopeless.
I just read from the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) that children of our most honorable Congressman Ted Deutch and his wife Jill; Gabby, Serena, and Cole, have initiated a nationwide project challenging college-age kids to bake hamantaschen and use the profits to contribute to causes to help the families in Parkland, and aid the movements for gun safety. They will help support the students who have lost all of their school supplies, backpacks, and belongings. Kol HaKavod!
This week a number of our congregants stood up to help. Many of us were present at rallies. Today, our ECC collected close to one thousand dollars in support of students and a movement.
From the beginning, our tradition tries to make order out of chaos. That will continue in relation to the immediate challenges of gun safety and response to the Parkland families, and in our celebration of the upcoming Purim holiday.
See you in shul.
Rabbi David Steinhardt
P.S. If you would like to help, the teachers from Douglas Stoneman High School have made a wish list on Amazon for school supplies and materials they need to redecorate classrooms when they return to school. Just click to visit their Amazon Wishlist.