This week’s shooting at Ozar Hatorah School in Toulouse, France, has brought about global condemnation, concern and dismay. Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, his two sons Gabriel, 4, and Arieh, 5, and pupil Miriam Monsonego, 7, were killed in the senseless attack. As of Tuesday night, the suspected killer had not been apprehended. There is an expression in Hebrew “kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh” that means, “All of Israel are responsible for one another.” Living in the States, far away from the Jewish community of Toulouse, we still recognize that we are part of one, worldwide Jewish community. We mourn for this tragic, unnecessary loss of life and pray that the person responsible will be brought to justice speedily.
It is with heavy hearts that we enter into what is supposed to be one of the most beautiful and celebratory months of the Jewish calendar. This week, we begin reading not only the book of Leviticus (Sefer Vayikra) but also read an additional passage known as Ha-Chodesh, acknowledging the beginning of the Hebrew month of Nisan, when we celebrate the festival of Pesach, and recall our the redemption of our biblical ancestors from slavery in Egypt, thousands of years ago. The term ha-chodesh comes from chapter 12 of Exodus where we read, “This month (ha-chodesh hazeh) shall be to you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you” (Exodus 12:1).
In its most ancient form, Pesach was observed, both by the Israelites who fled Egypt, and later in the Temple, by making a special sacrifice to God. Today, while we read of the ancient practices of sacrifice (beautifully and conveniently detailed in the first five chapters of Leviticus) we continue to consider other ways of approaching our festival observance. Beyond two lengthy nights of storytelling at our sedarim, we need to remember the sentiment of Exodus 12, where we are taught that the month of Nisan represents a new beginning, and brings us an opportunity for renewal, rebirth and rededication.
In the wake of a cruel and meaningless attack on innocent children and their schoolteacher, we need every opportunity we can get to refocus our energy and attention in positive ways. I fear that there will always be senseless, inexplicable violence in the world, though I hope for the day when this will not be the case. What I do know is that it is nearly impossible to help a person who shows no respect – for others, for himself, or for the preciousness of life itself – to recognize the error of his ways. Justice will tend to him.
Meanwhile, we must tend to our grieving brothers and sisters; we must tend to our community. Twentieth century theologian and scholar, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote, “There are three ways to mourn. The first is to weep, the second is to keep silent, and the third is to turn sorrow into song.” The beginning of the month of Nisan, and our subsequent festival of Pesach is about turning sorrow into song, about rediscovering our very human need for freedom, about reminding ourselves that redemption is possible, and that we have every opportunity – with every word and every deed – to help in perfecting the world.
Healing from the wounds of this latest attack will take time. We know that there are plenty of cases where people choose poorly, and their decisions can have a dramatically negative impact upon our world. But as long as we continue to choose to live a life of blessing, goodness, compassion and love, we will bring light and hope into the world. We cannot forget that the possibility of redemption rests within each of us. May our dedication as a community and God’s eternal presence enable us to move from sadness to joy, from mourning to festivity, and from darkness to light.
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov