Moses repeated the words God told him about the Jewish people’s having a choice between life and death, blessing and curses. The apostle Paul said Jesus came to take the sting of death away. This poem on Velveteen Rabbi’s blog post this morning, says it all for me about how too often we choose death. For me not only are the gunmen responsible for deaths, the terrorists responsible for deaths but we all are. We are in a world that allows guns – ok so in the UK and Europe we don’t have the same gun laws and the US but we still have guns; young men in inner cities with guns because of fear and need for power, farmers with guns to shoot rabbit, vermin, etc, Policeman carrying guns because there are gun crimes. We live in a landscape that gives rise to fear and hate, for the need to control, for the need to be seen. Too often we choose death not live, we choose to put the other down rather than raise them up. We choose to fear rather than trust, to see the bad rather than the good.
Each time we fear or need power, don’t trust and don’t accept, we are choosing death over life. Yes we need to stop gun crime. Yes we need to stop stabbings. But we also need to stop fear and disempowering others. If we gave people a voice, some place to speak, gave them power without the gun, maybe that would help them choose life over death.
Here’s Rachel’s poem
I loved and grieved from the day you claimed your free will,
Knowing that you too would open into infinite love and grief,
Knowing how your hearts would bloom with gratitude and hope
With every child’s every first, and lament every child’s every last,
As I do and always will with My children’s every first and every last
In the raw and wild cosmic dance we began together in the garden.
What else could I do? You must become what you must become,
Like Me infinitely becoming, infinitely capable of love and grief,
So I clothed your shimmering lights in skins and hid in plain sight
For you to seek and find Me amidst life’s sweetness and sorrow.
How fast your lights flickered underneath: your second son’s blood
Cried out to Me from the ground, too soon returning earth to earth.
The guilty wandered the land howling, pining for peace and safety
Denied by the very violence that condemned the guilty to wander,
Setting in motion also the vicious whirlwind spinning through
Columbine, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas. Where next?
I did not mean for you to live like this or die like this – in fear and terror,
In trauma’s torrents, in shrapnel showers turning streets into killing fields.
You still can choose life: the free will your ancestors claimed for you
Remains yours even now, and still I gasp with loving pride and worry
With your every first and every last, grieving the countless innocents
Returning to Me in My own image too soon, bloodied and bagged.
But still you choose death. Aimlessly you wander the land howling,
Pining for peace and safety that senseless violence steals from you.
Choose to be My love, My strength, My intuition, My prophets, My beauty,
My healing hands – My living essence in this bloody and weary world.
Only then will this cruelest of your roulette wheels stop spinning red.
Oh, how I long with you for that day when you truly will choose life.
Claimed your own free will – Eve’s “defiance” in Eden claimed human agency for all her successors (Genesis 3:6-7).
Knowing … bloom – An allusion to the Tree of Knowledge and humanity’s “opening” into the knowledge of love and loss.
You must become – God describes God’s self to Moses as אהיה אשר אהיה / Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, “I Am Becoming Who I Am Becoming” (Exodus 3:14). We who are made in the divine image are also called to perennially become.
Clothed your shimmering light in skins – Because the Hebrew words for “skin” (עור) and “light” (אור) both are pronounced or, Zohar teaches that Eden’s first humans were beings of light, before God made us garments of skins. Even so, our skins cover our light, which we still can see if we look carefully.
Your second son’s blood… returning earth to earth. Humanity’s first murder – Cain killing Abel (Genesis 4) – spilled Abel’s blood (דם / dam) to the earth (אדמה / adamah).
Wander – Cain, after murdering his brother, was condemned to wander the land without peace (Genesis 4:14).
Setting in motion also – From Cain comes not only the first murder but also the rhetorical question – “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:8) – that continues to reverberate through the generations, and also the first “Why?” (Genesis 4:6), which teaches all future generations the possibility of teshuvah / return and repair (Radak Gen. 4:6).
Whirlwind – An allusion to the סערה (storm) from which God answered Job (Job 38:1). The storm’s circular shape resembles both a roulette wheel and a gun’s rotating cylinder that conveys bullets.
Choose life – “Choose life, if you and your progeny would live’ (Deuteronomy 30:19).
Aimlessly – The indiscriminate shooter, the nation’s inertia.
My love, My strength… – Seven emanations of the divine, corresponding to the seven lower sefirot of Kabbalistic tradition: chesed (love), gevurah (strength / boundaries), tiferet (balance), netzach (endurance / momentum), hod (beauty / gratitude), yesod (foundation / generativity), malchut (indwelling).
Roulette wheels stop spinning red – For the gaming tables of Las Vegas and the ultimate gamble: walking the streets safe and unafraid.
14 stanzas – 14 for יד, the yad (hand) of God: we now are the hand that must act.
332 words – 332 for לבש, lavash (clothed) in divine skins that cover our light.
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Rabbi David Evan Markus