Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What's worse than slavery?

Why did God have to take the Jewish people out of slavery performing great signs and wonders?  Why didn’t they rise up in rebellion as the American people did against Great Britain back in 1776 or as the Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, or Syrians are who have been fighting against their autocratic regimes during the Arab Spring with the hope of installing a democratic government? 

Our tradition laments that the Israelites had sunk so low that they had become accustomed to slavery and couldn’t even imagine being free a people.   Even after they were freed, they still had a slave mentality and tried God’s patience 10 times in the desert.  Finally God decreed that that generation would never enter the Land of Israel.  Only the generations who grew up free during the 40 years of wandering in the desert, would be able to conquer the Land God had promised them.

But slavery wasn’t the only thing our ancestors got used to.  In fact there was something even worse than getting used to slavery.  In the retelling of the story of Passover, the Haggadah quotes Deuteronomy 16: 6.  “And the Egyptians dealt evil with us, and oppressed us, and imposed upon us hard labor.”  Rabbi Avraham Kook was wont to pun on this verse: “The Egyptians made us evil.  Rabbi Isaac Arieli explained how the Egyptians made us evil in his book Midrash Ariel. The Egyptians made us evil by accustoming us to seeing atrocities. (The Rav Kook Hagadah, p. 66-7) 

The lot of a slave is terrible.  He is just disposable property.  To save money Pharaoh feed them matza because it was inexpensive and a little bit goes a long way.  There is only so much matza a person can eat before he feels all clogged up.  Some of our ancestors must have wasted away for lack of a nutritious diet.  If Pharaoh and his slave owners were anything like the slave owners here in America, they too must have raped defenseless slaves, women, men, and children depending upon their proclivities.   Finally if slaves weren’t performing up to Pharaohs standings or meeting their quotas or for any other reason, they were whipped and sometimes punished with death. Because of an irrational fear, Pharaoh had all the male children thrown in the Nile and Moses saved a kinsman from a taskmaster’s beating.  Violence had seeped into the slave culture for the very next day Moses tries to stop two Hebrews from fighting.  Indeed the Israelites had become so accustomed to atrocities they didn’t complained and accepted that way of life as normal even with their dealings with one another.

Just yesterday we just dodged another bullet. A University of Central Florida dropout planned an attack on the campus but committed suicide in a dorm before carrying it out, the authorities said Monday. The man, James Oliver Seevakumaran, 30, pulled a gun on another student, who then called police, said the university’s police chief, Richard Beary. Thanks to the quick response of the police before he could carry out his deadly plan, Mr. Seevakumaran shot himself in the head. Four explosive devices were found in a backpack, and Chief Beary said he believed that Mr. Seevakumaran pulled a fire alarm in the dorm to get other students out in the open for an attack.  What could have been another Virginia Tech tragedy, ended up with no loss of innocent life!

We have become so accustomed to gun violence atrocities that it has become part of our everyday culture.  Just think how many gun allusions we employ in our daily speech.  Do you stick to your guns?  Do you believe that forewarned is to be forearmed?  Have you known anybody who has gone ballistic or at least gone off half cocked? How many of you have dodged a bullet but not in the literal sense that I used in an above paragraph?  We have become so inured to gun violence that we have allowed our leaders enact laws and policies that perpetuate murder.  Here are just a few examples:

1.     In the United States, we register births, marriages, divorces and deaths; we register cars, trucks, boats, trailers, bicycles, houses, lands, dogs, and cats- everything but guns.

2.     In most states, a person can buy and own a gun without knowing how to use it and there are no requirements that gun owners be trained in the safe operation of guns.

3.     The Consumer Protection Act of 1972 prohibits the Consumer Protection Commission from examining the quality or safety of any gun or any piece of ammunition.  Teddy Bears, dolls and toy guns must pass four sets of strict regulations before they can be sold.

4.     States with the highest rates of death and injuries by guns have the weakest gun laws and the largest export of crime guns compared to other states with stronger laws.

5.     Studies have shown that sane gun regulations will reduce gun violence in America.  During the 10 year ban on semi-automatic guns was on the books, the murder rate dropped significantly.

6.     In 2010 the Virginia Legislature passed a law which permits persons to carry their guns into bars provided they do not consume alcohol while there.  State police chiefs described this legislation as “a recipe for disaster.”

7.     College students who have serious alcohol behaviors are more likely to have guns with them at school. A study, based on a nationally representative sample of more than 15,000 students at 130 4-year colleges, found students arrested for driving under the influence are twice as likely to have guns compared with students who have not been so arrested

8.     More than 50% of guns acquired at crime scenes come from 1% of gun dealers. The ATF knows who the rogue dealers are, but present law blocks the agency from publicizing their activities or putting them out of business.

9.     In late 2005, the United States Congress and President George W Bush passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce Act, which denies victims of gun violence the right to sue manufacturers, distributors, or dealers for negligent, reckless, or irresponsible conduct. No other industry in America enjoys such blanket immunity and protection.

10. When all murders of civilians in all the developed countries of the world are tabulated, 86% occur in the United States.

Passover teaches us that we don’t have to accept the status quo and can reject the notion that gun violence is just part of our society.  God has freed us both in body and in mind.  Reducing gun violence is just as possible as our redemption out of Egypt if we would only work to end it.  Demand your legislators to ban semi-automatic guns with large clips of ammunition, to mandate background checks for all gun purchases, and to allow Federal Agencies like the FBI and ATF share background checks and gun tracing information to apprehend criminals. 

No matter what we say or what we eat this Passover, we won’t be truly free until we stop becoming accustom to gun violence and do something about it. .

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