This past Tuesday evening the Scranton Jewish Community Center hosted a community wide vigil in response to the horrific attack in Pittsburgh this past Shabbos. It was attended by over 500 people. Many non-Jews participated as a gesture of solidarity with us.
I was given the opportunity to address the gathering and these are my remarks.
After the conclusion of the evening services this past Shabbos, Rabbi Fine of Machzikeh Hadas announced that he had just gotten word that there was a horrendous fatal shooting in a Temple in Pittsburgh, and he then led the congregation in special prayers on their behalf.
A Jew’s immediate response to a tragedy – any type, whether it is personal, communal or general, is to pray to G-d. This on the spot reaction to express prayers comes from a deeply rooted belief that whatever occurs is G-d’s message to us. G-d is calling us to have a deeper connection with Him.
We have all gathered together this evening as one unit, for the purpose of showing solidarity and compassion to the martyrs ― the 11 of our own people who died just because they were Jews. Our hearts and prayers also go out to the wounded Jews and the heroic and devoted first responders. We also offer our condolences to the grieving relatives and friends of the victims of this vicious shooting. We also gather because we each want to join in showing that we ache with their pain.
This attack in a house of worship – certainly arouses our concern over the safety of our facilities. However, I noticed that since the attack not one person who regularly comes to pray, used it as an excuse not to come. Everyone showed up. Why? Because prayers are our connection and communication to G-d!
Truth be told, my ears are a bit more sensitive to the creak of the door in the synagogue wondering who is entering – but we forge ahead with determination not to despair. We hope to trust in the vast majority of decent peaceful and compassionate human beings in our blessed country – the United States of America!
Everyone wants to know why this evil attack happened to innocent upstanding people? To that I do not have an answer.
However, I can share with you the extraordinary sacred words and advice of King David in the Psalms.
King David asks, “Who desires life, loving each day to see good? King David understood the central core of each human being is the desire to live and be good.
So what is the formula for a good life that he has to offer us?
King David continues, “Guard your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.”
When I heard about the horrific attack, these sentiments came to mind.
Incidentally, we recited this particular Psalm in our preliminary prayers on Shabbos morning – around the same time as the attack.
King Solomon in the book of Proverbs states, “Life and death are held in the choice of one’s words.”
Bullets can kill, but have limited range; However, words, harsh words, condemning words, evil words directed toward others can kill, disable, depress and turn the living, into walking and breathing dead. This can be done from anywhere around the world with a simple click and sharing it on social media.
My suggestion is that we each leave this special gathering with a resolve to be more conscious and sensitive of what we say or comment about others, and to utilize our precious gift of speech which only humanity has been granted, to promote peace, goodness, harmony and support.
Let’s fill the world with love, concern, assistance, charity and empathy. We have witnessed, heard and expressed so much of the above since the dreadful shootings. In this merit, G-d will protect us and our local communities, the state of Pennsylvania, our country and the entire world with blessings of peace, goodness and protection. Amain!
On the subject of prayer..
In this week’s Parsha, the Torah relates that Avraham instructed his faithful servant Eliezer to travel to his native land Charan to seek a suitable match for his son Yitzchok.
Yitzchok did not accompany Eliezer because Yitzchok was invested with the Kedusha – sanctity – of a sacrifice. Although at the last moment his father was instructed not to sacrifice him, since he ascended the altar to be slaughtered, he was not permitted to leave the holy soil of the Land of Israel.
Avraham told Eliezer the nature of the family and the virtues he was looking for in the prospective bride. He provided many gifts and blessed Eliezer that G-d should bless his efforts with success.
The Torah relates in great detail the prayer which Eliezer offered to G-d when he came to the outskirts of Charan.
Eliezer’s prayers were answered immediately, and he noticed Rivka at a well. After discussing it with her family, Rivka wished to marry Yitzchok.
My Uncle Rabbi Moshe Saks o.b.m. points out something interesting. When Eliezer heard his master Avraham give him a blessing that his efforts should be met with success, why did he feel it was necessary for him to offer a personal prayer? After all, he was already guaranteed that things will work out.
The answer is that the Torah is teaching us that no matter what type of guarantee someone gets – even from the greatest person like Avraham, each person’s personal prayer, in this case from a servant, is an essential and integral part of the equation of how G-d provides His blessing and when He answers the request. Eliezer’s request was answered immediately.
One is never to minimize the effectiveness of his prayer – it may be the one that G-d is waiting for!