There is a famous debate in the Talmud, where the rabbis ask, which is greater–study or action. After some back and forth, the answer is determined. Study is greater, the rabbis say, because it leads to action. This is a fascinating statement coming from people who spend the majority of their time studying and learning, but it reflects a fundamental understanding that study only has a purpose if it compels those who are learning to also act.
In the wake of the shooting in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, many of us are left wondering what we can do, how we might respond to such unspeakable horror and tragedy. You see many people, from Congress to your friends of Facebook, are “sending thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families.” Turning our thoughts to the horror and remembering what happened, are all fundamental parts of how we respond, and often, how Judaism asks us to respond when terrible things occur.
But, as a parent and as a human being “sending thoughts and prayers” doesn’t seem like enough. It seems like study with no action behind it. I imagine that, to my children, my thoughts and prayers and Facebook posts don’t seem like anything at all. They can’t see them and they probably can’t grasp them.
And while my children are too young to hear the details of Orlando, they are not too young to understand when I am acting and when I am letting the world pass me by. Young children are concrete creatures. They see a problem and they want to fix it, and they look to us, their parents, to set that example.
So it becomes our responsibility to try to fix it and to give them the tools to contribute to making the world a better place. One response you often hear is that we have to love, fiercely and completely. That this crime was born out of hate, and we have to respond by loving. But love is not something that our children can learn out of a book–it has to be taught by example. We teach our children that we love them by hugging them, and supporting them, and caring for them.
So we must teach our children to actively love. By showing them how to love people who are different from themselves. The perpetrator of the Orlando massacre was incensed that people loved differently than he did. Let us not continue that line of hate by showing our children that no matter who someone loves, how they dress, what color their skin is, that they are welcome in our homes and in our communities. Let’s teach our children to accept the differences in their friends and classmates and let’s show them that loving means not only accepting, but celebrating our diversity, and actively creating connections across our perceived differences.
Let’s teach our children to love by showing them that we care for our fellow human beings and the world. Let’s take them to a vigil or a rally for something we believe in. Let’s take them to canvas or phone bank for a cause. Let’s show them we care about legislation that protects the lives of other human beings, not because they are the same as we are, but because every human life has infinite value and worth.
And let’s take them to the voting booth and show them love for our country and for its citizens by teaching them who we are voting for and why. Let’s show them that we support politicians who speak words of love, who look out for the vulnerable, and who advocate for a society that is inclusive, rather than exclusive.
That’s not to say that this is so easy. If it were easy, we would not have a situation where someone is so full of hate that they murder 49 people. Teaching love requires us to be actively aware of what messages we are putting out into the world. It requires us not to be numb to hatred and violence day after day. Sometimes we will slip, and sometimes things will become so overwhelming that we feel like we can’t do it anymore. It is at those moments that we need to hold each other up, to turn to one another to remind us to go on, to keep teaching love.
Let us teach our children to study and pray. Let us teach them to try to understand what is happening and what the root causes are. But let us also teach them that all that study and prayer needs to lead to action. We can express our thoughts and prayers, but we should do so through actions of love.