As we struggle to deal with the horrific synagogue shooting this past Shabbat, we look to our leaders for words of caring and hope. Our President again disappointed us. In a scripted statement, the President’s first words attempted to be reassuring but they were measured and political. His statement felt inadequate to quell our pain. And then his later, unscripted words were inappropriate and offensive. I’ll examine those in a bit.
As I read Torah for next week and with the President’s ill-thought out statements in mind, I noticed an instance in the Torah of an incongruous and unsuitable greeting. Rebecca is about to leave her father’s home to meet her new husband, Isaac. As she prepares to go, we are told that her family: “blessed Rebekah and said to her, “O sister! May you grow into thousands of myriads; May your offspring seize the gates of their foes.”
There is a tradition to greet a bride with the hope that her children grow into thousands of myriads. But looking at the complete sentence in Torah we notice that the second phrase has a different focus. Rebekah’s family also wishes that her descendants should be aggressive enough to overtake their enemies. The family could have offered many other wishes to the new bride: health, happiness, or longevity. Instead, her family hopes that her children will be warriors who commandeer their enemies’ towns. How odd and inappropriate! And this message of bellicosity is coming from a family who appears to be motivated by greed and who later act duplicitously.
And what of the comments to the nation regarding the massacre in Pittsburgh? Our President’s response to a synagogue shooting was to admonish the community for their failure to have armed guards. Whatever the sympathy expressed in his earlier statement, his later words display his lack of morality. Rather than acting truly supportive, our nation’s leader offered a message designed to deploy even more guns. This statement was as absurd as wishing a bride that her grandchildren become warriors.
Even more offensive was the real meaning of that message to the Jewish community. As Rabbi Joshua Stanton offered on CNN, the President blamed the victims.
At times of violence, real leadership is compassionate without qualification and resolute in complete condemnation. Good people respond with wholehearted kindness and calls for justice. I pray that our current President learns this lesson . . . but my thoughts and prayers might not be realized.
Rabbi Evan J. Krame