The Voices of our Brothers and Sisters

I was sitting in the large sanctuary when the rabbi announced that there had been another mass shooting, in Florida. The pit in my stomach returned and I sank into my seat. The giant walls of the room, their beautiful stained glass, the bima became gray in my sight. Another shooting. More dead. At that point, I did not know the extent of the violence, the numbers, the hate. 

When I returned home, I was informed that nearly fifty people had been murdered in a gay club in Orlando, Florida, and an untold amount of people injured. 

49 LGBTQ people murdered. (You can read about their lives here.)

Vigil to unite in the wake of the Orlando Pulse shooting by Fibonacci Blue

My first thought went to my brother. He often travels to Florida with his husband, and while they are not club goers, my first thought was to them and their safety. Now, intellectually I knew that neither my brother nor brother-in-law were in Florida at the time, but the thought kept swirling in my mind. 

It could have been them.

For so many families, it was.

For communities around the country, gay and straight, our loved ones have been gunned down again. Our brothers and sisters sacrificed to the altar of gun violence. There are many voices clamoring for our attention right now. There are heartbeats pounding in our ears right now. There are tears filling our souls right now. 

Let us take guidance from our tradition, in the Shulchan Arukh, the preeminent code of Jewish Law, it prescribes the following

מִי שֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹ חֹלִי שֶׁל סַכָּנָה, מִצְוָה לְחַלֵּל עָלָיו אֶת הַשַּׁבָּת; וְהַזָּרִיז, הֲרֵי זֶה מְשֻׁבָּח; וְהַשּׁוֹאֵל, הֲרֵי זֶה שׁוֹפֵךְ דָּמִים

For someone who has a dangerous illness, it is a commandment to break Shabbat for that person. One who hurries to do this is praised. One who asks about this is a murderer.

Our country has an illness and it is of the utmost danger. We have to do what we must to heal ourselves from it. We must hurry, run, vote to move forward. The path towards action is clear to eliminate weapons like those used every single day for suicide, homicide, and mass shootings. As Rabbi Karo stated (the author of the Shulchan Arukh), inaction and hesitation place us into the category of perpetrators. “Thoughts and prayers” are insufficient.

The Be’er Hetev, a commentary on the Shulchan Arukh expands on this notion.

שופך. ואם החולה אינו רוצה כופין אותו שהוא חסידות של שטות ואם החולה אומר צריך אני לתרופה פלונית והרופא אמר אין צריך שומעין לחולה. ואם הרופא אומר שיזיקהו שומעין לרופא

Murderer: If the sick person does not want help, we force that person because [ignoring him] would be a stupid kindness. And if the sick person says, I need to go to the doctor and the doctor says, he does not need help, [we ignore the doctor] and listen to the sick person. If the doctor says, the sick person will worsen, we listen to the doctor.

The Be’er Hetev sets up a paradigm for us about what voices need to be heard. 

We must listen and be present for our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community. We see you. We love you. We know that the fear of violence has always caused you to look over your shoulder and now all the more so. Know that we see and feel your pain, we are standing shoulder to shoulder, and we will not cease the work to keep you safe.

We must listen to the voices of healing. There are those in our country who declare that “the patient is not sick” and that guns are not the cause of our nation’s gun violence. The voices of the over 6,000 victims of gun violence in 2016 are screaming otherwise. 

We can act. We can make a difference. We can hold our elected officials accountable. We can do this together, if we are listening.

(Here is a list of things you can do from the Rabbis Against Gun Violence Facebook Page.)