This week we are introduced to Abraham.
Our Torah portion this week, Lech Lecha, begins with God calling Abraham, and inviting him to go forth from his homeland to a new land. But the call to move geographic locations is simply a physical manifestation of a deeper, more spiritual move: Abraham is changing the direction of his life in order to become God’s representative on Earth, to enter into a covenant with God.
Part of this “call” has to do with a blessing. God says:
I will make of you a great nation,
And I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
And you shall be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you
And curse him that curses you;
And all the families of the earth
Shall bless themselves by you.”
This is an interesting turn of phrase. What does it mean that those who bless Abraham will in turn be blessed? What does it mean that others in the world will bless themselves through Abraham?
God is telling Abraham, here at the beginning of his mission, that he has the potential to make an impact. That he is going to make change in the world, and through his righteous action, that change is going to be overwhelmingly positive. He will be a blessing.
Righteous action brings change and makes an impact. Righteous action is a blessing.
The time has come again for us to demonstrate that we can bring change and make an impact. Election Day is upon us. We in Washington State, of course, have had our ballots for two weeks now as we vote by mail and so the day itself has less of an impact. But the fact of our voting, participating fully in our democracy, is something that should not go unnoticed. At a time that voting rights are being challenged, and the ability to easily vote curtailed, we are mindful that the ability to vote in our system is a blessing. Our acting on that ability makes our actions a blessing.
While it is a “midterm” year as they call it, vis a vis the presidential election, every election is important. This year we vote for Congress, several local elections and the usual slate of referenda and initiatives. One ballot measure, though, jumps out this year: I-594, which will make background checks mandatory on the sale of all firearms.
It jumps out not only because of the plague of gun violence that is sweeping our nation, but because of the plague of gun violence that is sweeping our local communities. The latest school shooting (and even to have to say “the latest school shooting” seems beyond the pale) took place right here in Washington State, in Marysville, north of Seattle. The details are continually being revealed, but 15-year-old Jaylen Fryberg premeditatedly invited his friends and cousins to meet him for lunch in the cafeteria where he proceeded to gun them down. Two people died, three wounded and Jaylen committed suicide.
We may never know all the details, the hows and whys of what Jaylen did. The reports are that he was a good kid, played football, was elected a homecoming prince. Reports are that he was in a dispute over a girlfriend (adding elements of domestic violence to this shooting). No indications of mental illness.
And the gun was legally purchased. This last factor will lead some to beg the question, would I-594 have even done anything? Indeed, that is one of the arguments against the initiative: that it still wouldn’t prevent criminals from obtaining guns.
First, while it may not do everything, it will do something, and that is important. If every piece of legislation had to solve every problem completely, then we would not pass any laws.
But irrespective of what it actually does regarding gun control, passing this initiative sends an important message. By passing this initiative we say this: that as a society, we will not let gun culture go unchecked. That guns are not just about individual rights, but communal responsibilities. That as we honor an individual’s right to own a firearm, we also honor an individual’s right to be able to go to school without fear.
For whatever Jaylen’s motivation, he was clearly comfortable with firearms. We need to stop saying as a nation that we are comfortable with guns. Guns shouldn’t be “comfortable” or “normative.”
A few years ago a mentally ill man attacked the offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, killing one person and wounding several. For this reason, among others, the organized Jewish community in Washington has come out in favor of I-594. And if you recall, last year at Rosh Hashanah I gave a sermon on the subject drawing on Jewish sources, you can find it here.
When Abraham set out on his journey, he knew that he had the potential to bring blessing or curse. And that blessing or curse would have wide impact. So I invite you to exercise your ability to make an impact. First, vote. No matter for whom you vote, no matter how you vote on the initiatives, just vote. It is the simplest, most powerful act we have to be engaged citizens of our community.
And I invite you to join me in voting for I-594. Let’s take a step towards tighter controls on guns. For some it doesn’t go far enough. For some it may go too far. But anything we can do to send the message that the right to gun ownership must come with responsibilities, and that measures are needed to ensure public safety, can only be for a blessing.