I’d like to offer my condolences to the family of William Lewis Corporon, Reat Underwood, and Terri LaManno. May you find comfort and hope in your time of loss. There are people, both Jews and non-Jews, who will find in this latest act of horrific murder a reason to call for further restrictions on the fundamental right to keep and bear arms. In this time of holiness for Jews and Christians, I’m compelled to reflect on the meaning of freedom and our responsibilities to our fellow man. As a Jew, I believe that restricting these rights is not in keeping with the teachings of Passover. Traditionally we ask four questions to help tell the story of the Exodus, but today I only have one . . .
Why is this right different from all other rights?
When we see hate groups requesting permits to march and exercise their freedom of speech, we join the ACLU in demanding that their rights are recognized. Meanwhile, we organize our own counter-protest and exercise our right to free speech to spread a message of love and tolerance.
When we see a threat to a minority religious group’s ability to worship as they see fit, we immediately demand action from our legislators. We’ve learned painful lessons about how restrictions on this freedom are quickly turned against us, thus we act without hesitation.
So when a madman commits murder, why is our response to ask for greater infringement on the right to keep and bear arms? We don’t think about exercising our own right to self-defense (and by extension the right to an appropriate tool-set for that purpose.) We don’t think about how a restriction on rights can be – and in the past has been – turned against us. I think it comes down to what happened during the exodus from Egypt.
When Moses returned to Egypt, the ancient Israelites didn’t immediately start packing up to leave. In fact, we were practically dragged kicking and screaming into the wilderness on the way to freedom. Why? Why, when our families were not allowed to live together, every male child was put to the sword, and we toiled ceaselessly under Pharaoh’s whip, but did not receive the fruits of our labor, did we want to stay? It’s simple, really. Freedom is scary. In Egypt, we knew what the future held. It wasn’t pretty, but at least we were being fed. Life was predictable. Out there in the Wilderness, who knows what could happen?
Today, when we consider the idea of being armed, many people find it incredibly frightening. Their idea of freedom is not that they, too may be armed if they so choose, but rather that they be free from acts of violence. But violence and conflict don’t begin with a tool. They start in the human heart, when a hostile feeling becomes a hostile act. In other words, the root of violence is beyond our control.
Accepting the idea that being armed is a human right is a tacit admission that we cannot control violence. It is far more comforting for some to ignore the human element and focus on a tangible object, thus the fixation on the specific tools of killers. This also leads to the conflation of security with freedom and the failure to even recognize self-defense and the tools to accomplish it as a fundamental human right.
The net result is an inability to tell the difference between Pharaoh and Moses. Slavery begins to look like freedom.
We must remember that we are required to view ourselves as if we, personally, were delivered from slavery unto freedom out of the land of Egypt. We are obligated to remind ourselves that so long as any person is not free, we are all still enslaved. At seders around the country, we will enjoin each other to perform tikkun olam, acts to repair the world and help free the oppressed. What I fear is we may find ourselves aiding the Pharaohs of the world, whether we mean to or not.