Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel
CHULA VISTA, California — It isn’t every day I come across a theologically provocative news story headline like the New York Daily News did this morning in the terrible aftermath of the mass shooting that took place in San Bernardino, California—which claimed the lives of fourteen people, while injuring over twenty.
The headline said, “God isn’t fixing this,” which referred to the many lawmakers who offered up their prayers for the victims, but failed to act when it came to enacting stricter gun control laws. The article listed a number of tweets from the various GOP presidential candidates, where each of them “offer their prayers for the victims.” The article neglected to mention how President Obama himself, offered his prayers for the victims and their families. Gun violence is a complicated issue.
I have always felt that some of the gun laws need tightening. More psychological background screening is a good thing, provided it can prevent unhealthy people from obtaining firearms—especially weaponry such as the Kalashnikov AK-47, which is more of a military weapon used in the battlefields. The idea of a homeowner utilizing such a weapon in the home has always seemed rather odd to me. For someone like Rambo, well that’s different. To the President’s credit, he ceded that these changes will not prevent every act of gun violence, but it may prevent some incidents from occurring. Ethnic profiling here in this case might have also prevented Syed Rizwan Farook from obtaining the weaponry he used. It certainly works for Israel, and it can work for our country too.
Sadly, political correctness may have contributed to this terrible tragedy.
What was the gun merchant really thinking when he sold Syed Rizwan Farook the weaponry he used? The careless gun merchant contributed to the unlawful and criminal violence that occurred. The Torah emphatically stresses, “You shall not insult the deaf, or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you shall fear your God. I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:14). As Martin Buber notes, “The fear of God” is not the fear of punishment. Whenever the “fear of God” is used in Scriptures, it always denotes the reverence for life. Every gun merchant should have this biblical passage enshrined on the walls of his shop.
While I strongly believe the President has every right to use the bully pulpit to promote new laws concerning gun control, it is important that the President walk his talk for justice demands consistency and fairness. Operation “Fast and Furious” scandal is a grim reminder that providing guns to Mexican drug cartel leaders proved to be a dubious and dangerous operation, which ultimately led to the deaths of Mexican civilians as well as the death of the United States Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry who was killed December 2010 with these weapons. This affair was so scandalous that the Justice Department demanded documents related to the scandal from Attorney General Eric Holder, who refused to cooperate, resulting in Holder becoming the first sitting member of the Cabinet of the United States to be held in contempt of Congress on June 28, 2012. The President himself, embarrassingly, invoked executive privilege for the first time in his presidency over the same documents.
Of course, banning such weaponry does not necessarily prevent a person from getting one. As we have seen in the past, where there is a will, there is also a way. Although I find myself differing with the President on most of our country’s national and international issues, I think there is room for everyone creatively to compromise.
From the theological perspective, Paul Tillich teaches us a valuable lesson worth considering. Too many times, we imagine that God is a “Cosmic Bellboy,” or “Santa Claus (in keeping with Christmas spirit of the season), who bestows all of our wishes and desires. According to Tillich, nothing can be farther from the truth.
Jewish prayer concurs with Tillich’s point.
Jewish mystics teach us that, “Blessings from above never descend into a vacuous space” (Zohar I, Genesis 88a). In other words, everything we ask for from God demands that we make a corresponding vessel to receive that blessing.
If we wish to prevent gun violence, we must find ways to tame the human spirit. Passing laws for, or against gun control will mean very little, unless we also make an effort to distance ourselves from violent thoughts, violent words, and violent deeds.
While the Hollywood community tends to be outspoken about the importance of gun control, it is counter-productive for these same actors and actresses to promote violent films that enshrine violent attitudes with images that show no reverence for human life.
Prayer in Jewish tradition is not merely a rote recitation of words; it is contains a recipe and a prescription on how we must manifest God’s mercy and justice in the world. Kabbalists have often said that the shapes of the four Hebrew letters of God’s Name “YHWH” resembles that of a human being. The image of God that our Creator has endowed each of us with is a reminder of how each of us participates and partakes of God’s divine nature and Being. Ergo, “God isn’t fixing this” may be a more appropriate name for a headline than the writer might have imagined. However, the word for “prayer” “Tefilah” actually derives from the word to be “self-reflective.”
None of us is so high and mighty that we can’t take these issues to heart and in the spirit of shalom, find compromises to a vexing problem that everyone can live with. Maybe then, we will prove worthy enough for God to answer our prayers.
 Jackson, David (June 20, 2012). “Obama claims executive privilege; Holder held in contempt”. USA Today. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
 John Parkinson,. (June 20, 2012). “Committee Votes Attorney General Eric Holder in Contempt of Congress After Obama Asserts Executive Privilege”. ABC News. Retrieved June 22, 2012.