“After the Newtown shootings”
God, let me cry on Your shoulder.
Rock me like a colicky baby.
Promise me You won’t forget
each of Your perfect reflections
killed today. Promise me
You won’t let me forget, either.
I’m hollow, stricken like a bell.
Make of my emptiness a channel
for Your boundless compassion.
Soothe the children who witnessed
things no child should see,
the teachers who tried to protect them
but couldn’t, the parents
who are torn apart with grief,
who will never kiss their beloveds again.
Strengthen the hands and hearts
of Your servants tasked with caring
for those wounded in body and spirit.
Help us to find meaning
In the tiny lights we kindle tonight.
Help us to trust
that our reserves of hope
and healing are enough
to carry us through.
We are in Your hands: put us to work.
Ignite in us the unquenchable yearning
to reshape our world
so that violence against children
never happens again, anywhere.
We are Your grieving heart.
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat’s poem, written on the day of the Sandy Hook massacre, says everything there is to say about why Jews care about gun violence prevention.
One line, really, says everything there is to say: “each of Your perfect reflections.” Those precious children, those loving teachers who died that day, and every one of the victims of gun violence who died before or since (can you believe we’re talking about “since,” and that the number is 150,000 souls?), all are God’s perfect reflections. The very first chapter of our sacred scripture says it so clearly: “b’tzelem elohim bara oto — in the Divine Image did God create them.”
To say that human beings are created in God’s image, Rabbi Irving Greenberg teaches, is to say that each one of us is infinitely worthy, entirely unique, and of equal value to every other person. Gun violence negates every one of those claims, turning perfect reflections of God’s presence into mind-numbing, heart-breaking statistics, stripped of their worth, deemed expendable by those who worship at the altar of the NRA.
Kol ham’abed nefesh achat k’ilu ibed olam, v’chol ham’kayyem nefesh achat k’ilu kiyyem olam — “Whoever destroys a life, it is considered as if they destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if they saved an entire world” (M. San 4:5).
Guns destroy lives in so many ways: the bodies they shred; the memories they scar; the families they tear apart. In truth, every death from gun violence destroys entire worlds, and the steady march of deaths destroys the universe, again and again and again.
May this vigil, and the hundreds of others happening around the country tonight and in the coming days, be more than an expression of “thoughts and prayers.” May the light of the candles illumine the Divine Presence in each of us, and may the knowledge we are all God’s perfect reflections spur us to action. May we save lives, and thus save worlds.