Sunday, December 16, 2012


Newtown:  There is a section in the Book of Deuteronomy (21:1-9; Parshat Shoftim) that deals with a curious ceremony known as that of The Egla Arufa (The Heifer Whose Neck Is Broken).

If, in the land that YHVH your God is giving you to possess, a body is found lying in open country, and it is not known who struck the person down, then your elders and your judges shall come out to measure the distances to the towns that are near the body. The elders of the town nearest the body shall take a heifer that has never been worked, one that has not pulled in the yoke; the elders of that town shall bring the heifer down to a wadi with running water, which is neither plowed nor sown, and shall break the heifer's neck there in the wadi. Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come forward, for YHVH your God has chosen them to minister to him and to pronounce blessings in the name of YHVH, and by their decision all cases of dispute and assault shall be settled.
All the elders of that town nearest the body shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the wadi, and they shall declare:
Our hands did not shed this blood, nor were we witnesses to it. Absolve your people Israel, whom you redeemed, YHVH; do not let the guilt of innocent blood remain in the midst of your people Israel.
Then they will be absolved of bloodguilt. So you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, because you must do what is right in the sight of YHVH.
What is going on here? Commentators both old and new have puzzled over this. If the one who is guilty of the crime cannot be found, why is atonement required of others?

Here is Abq Jew's take: The town elders gather, wash their hands, and - on behalf of the townspeople - publicly proclaim:
It's not our fault! We didn't do it!
when, in fact, it is their fault - even though they didn't personally do it. Why? Because the town elders and the townspeople did not do enough to protect the people who lived in or passed through their town.


Abq Jew is deeply afraid that - through our nation's deep obeisance to the gun lobby and clear inability to face our mental healthcare responsibilities - we are sacrificing our children (and our adults) in a way that allows us to absolve ourselves of guilt and place the full blame on others.

We have been doing this in America for a long time.

Our leaders will give speeches, and perhaps shed a tear. Once again. And then nothing will be done, because it's "not the right time."

But here is what Abq Jew is really afraid of.

On Friday, Abq Jew's daughter Alex the BU Student published When I'm an Elementary School Teacher, I'll Keep My Shotgun in my Desk in her blog My Fantastical Thoughts On Life. Here is a portion of what she wrote:
Lately I've been narrowing down potential career options, and I've come to the conclusion that I'd be happiest teaching elementary school. Children of that age are the most fun. They're creative and curious, eager to learn and socialize. In my opinion there is no such thing as an evil child. But there are evil men; there are evil adults. So if and when I find myself teaching 1st grade in a suburb of new york city, I plan to keep a firearm in my desk. Because I'll be fucking damned if I'm going to let anyone hurt a bunch of innocent children just because they feel like it. 

But Rebbe Nachman taught us:

Yidden, yidden, do not despair! Zeit sich nisht meyaesh! 

And Judaism teaches that evil - for that is what it is - must always be fought and must never be accepted. So Abq Jew turns to The Tisch, Rabbi Menachem Creditor's blog. Today he writes:

Channel the grief into anger and action.
Sign every petition, call your faith leaders,
and contact your legislators.
There are a few petitions that are moving faster, but it's still a bit early to gauge which one is "the one." I'm driving colleagues to sign the PICO network clergy call, and the moveon petition seems to be gaining steam. But my advice, fwiw, is to fire on all cylinders for the next week, trying to end the trend of "flash-in-the-pan" activism and actually tip the scale toward progress.

Maybe this time.

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