My rabbinic colleagues of ancient times were masters of textual interpretation…and they noticed everything – every phrase, every word, every letter. They took nothing for granted and very little if anything at face value. For example, they noticed that in the book of Numbers, when the Jewish people arrive at the borders of Canaan (the Promised Land) for the first time, the text says more than what is necessary. God says to Moses, שלח-לך, “Shelach-lecha”, usually just translated as the command-form, “(You) Send!”. The commentaries point out that to say “(You) Send!” all the text needed was the word שלח, shelach, which, as you can see by the way I translated it, already implies the word “You”, a purpose which is served, apparently redundantly by adding לך, lecha, which also means “You”! Why say “You” twice, ask the rabbis? And, of course, because they are the rabbis, they have an answer! The rabbis imagine that the Jewish people came to Moses demanding spies enter the land first because they were afraid to enter, despite God’s promise that they would inherit the land and their enemies would fall away before them. When Moses shared the people’s demand with God, God was taken aback by their cowardice in light of God’s promise. So the word “You” is repeated in the phrase שלח-לך, “Shelach-lecha” to indicate that God is saying to Moses, “YOU can send in spies if you want, you know you don’t need to. “I told them long ago that [the land] is good, as it is said, (Exodus 3:17): ‘I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt … [unto a land flowing with milk and honey]’.”
In light of the insanity that occurred in Las Vegas a few days ago, even though we are not as discerning and creative as the ancient rabbis, we should all take note of a similar redundancy in our lives that leads us to misunderstand our true state of affairs. We don’t need to say phrases like “Gun Violence“. If its a gun, it’s purpose is violence. Guns aren’t really made for anything else. Some may say that they only shoot at targets. If the target shooter keeps a gun (or more) at home, in their car, at the office or secretly carried, the intended purpose of that gun is to defend against someone who is perceived as a threat, i.e., to do violence to the perceived threatener before, or in response to, violence on the part of the threatener. I emphasize the words “intended” and “perceived” because the statistics bear out neither the intention nor the perception holds true in most cases. In most cases, very unlike what happened in Las Vegas, most guns are used by “normal” individuals to do violence to someone the shooter knows, often family. This happens when the “normal” range of human emotions is coupled with a gun, a piece of technology whose sole purpose is to do violence. To say gun violence is redundant.
One more redundancy: The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, like the shooting in Las Vegas, is referred to as a “mass” shooting. I’m on the mailing list of “Sandy Hook Promise”, the organization begun by the families of those who were killed, 20 children and 6 adults. In their emails, they rarely speak about the “massiveness” of the event. For each family, the impact is massive. It will always be massive for the surviving loving ones and friends.
When he spoke at our synagogue, Beth Shir Shalom, only a few weeks after Sandy Hook, Pastor Shane Scott of Macedonia Baptist Church in Watts, reminded our combined congregations that Watts experiences a “mass shooting” every month, if not every two weeks if you add up all the shooting incidents in that period. For the individual who died and for his/her family and friends, it’s a “mass shooting” every time an individual is murdered, accidentally killed or uses a gun to die by suicide. To say that what happened in Las Vegas is somehow more impacting or more important because of the numbers involved is easier said by those of us who weren’t there and it’s insulting to the dead or the wounded and their families in Watts, Las Vegas and anywhere else. Those who were, or those who are in mourning or who are wounded or supporting someone who was wounded, they speak about one death or pray for one emotional and physical recovery for one person.
Every time, every shooting is “violent” and “massive” because they already are “violent” and “massive”. No need to repeat ourselves.
The rabbis took words seriously. We should, too.
I invite you to listen to the song I wrote after the shootings at
Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.
Such a shame that it’s still relevant. THIS time?!