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Friday Night Sermon (08/09/2019): "Helping others to prevent violence"

In a closed system, if everything is intact, whatever the system is carrying will flow smoothly. Your plumbing, for example, carries water. The water in the system is under some pressure, which is what makes the water flow smoothly. If the system develops a breach, water now leaks out of the system and the pressure drops, slowing or impeding the flow.

Consider this as a metaphor for society. As long as everyone is having a smooth life and things are going fairly well (nothing’s perfect, right?), society functions. If someone has issues or challenges with which are difficult for them to cope, they will feel stress. The less unable they feel to cope with these challenges, the more stressed they will be.

We’ve all experienced times during which we felt overwhelmed. Either we had what we felt was more than our fair share of problems, or problems that themselves seemed near insurmountable. Somehow, however, we ultimately figured it out and got it resolved, one way or another. And life went on. When people overcome their challenges, the level of stress they feel dissipates. They are now feeling calmer and can go on with their lives.

Some people, for whatever reason, didn’t make it work. They either felt the pressure from the challenges were too much to handle or couldn’t muster the mindset to overcome the challenges. These other people are stuck and are probably now seeing life as hostile. It’s against them and too much.

Their pressure is building. When people leave problems alone, they typically build; one thing leads to another. Now instead of having maybe one or two things to resolve, they have a host of problems. Their frustration level builds like the top of pressure cooker. With no way to alleviate the pressure, the top blows. These people are now a ticking time bomb looking for a way to act out their frustration.

Within the past two weeks, we’ve seen three situations of mass killings. People armed themselves and took out their frustrations on complete strangers. Perhaps the above discussed scenario is what led them to these heinous and horrific acts of terror. We don’t know. Maybe we can deduce from past experiences and our knowledge of human behavior what led to these horrible acts of acting out.

The foregoing is not meant to place blame on society and see these people as helpless victims. These were adults and so far it seems each perpetrator was completely cognizant of what they were doing. They made decisions and acted on them and now have to bear the consequences, whatever they may be.

As far as intervention and prevention, though, we can look at these instances in a more problem-solving manner. Let’s turn to Torah. The other week, we talked about how each Jew is responsible not just for themselves, but for others as well. We talked about the paragraphs of the Shema and how the first paragraph talks about performing commandments in the singular and the second paragraph talks about performing commandments in the plural.

There are other commandments that address group consciousness as well. At the very top of the list we are commanded to love our fellow as ourselves. Taking a practical approach to this commandment, it would be good to start with respect; respect others.

We are also commanded—commanded—to help our fellow who is stranded by the road. If we have a choice of helping someone we like vs. someone we don’t like, according to the sages, we help the person we don’t like first. We are commanded to help people who are in financial straits and not worry about any compensation because Hashem says He will compensate you for your generosity.

Our society has become a dog-eat-dog world. Good paying jobs are few and people are very competitive. Opportunity has diminished over the years and feels like while wages stagnate, taxes keep increasing. In Washington, it seems like nothing gets done and each faction is always blaming the other.

Society is not really an entity unto itself. Society takes on the character of the individuals that make up the society. A forest is lush because each tree is beautiful. If you have one bad tree, or one bad apple in the bunch, what do people notice? And it also spoils the whole picture, doesn’t it? You want to make the forest look beautiful again? Nurture the weak tree.

It’s really up to us. When people feel like they live in a society in which they matter and resources are available, sure, there are still challenges. But there is hope and more of an expectation that their challenges will be resolved. Otherwise, there becomes this mindset that to succeed in a hostile environment, you have to be hostile. Only the strong survive and take what you can while you can.

Again, this is not blaming society as a whole, but rather a way to alleviate some societal stress so the next potential terrorist may not feel that they have to act out. Let’s take our lesson from the Torah and spend more time considering the person next to you.

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