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School Shooting

I have often thought about the tragedy in Columbine and other schoolyard shootings. My impression is that these boys want to create an awesome experience, to impress the world with their power, their genius. Maybe they had it backwards. They were consumed with themselves when they could have been inspired by awesome teachers and students.

I would appreciate the Jewish perspective.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Why is it that of all of the tragedies that dominate the headlines, the events at Columbine High School are particularly disturbing?

The answer is because it happened to a bunch of kids at school.

Schoolchildren still have an aura – a smile of innocence that somehow encapsulates the American Dream, the courage of the Rockies and the glory of the flag of liberty. In the heart of a child lies the kernel of potential from which germinates society's most precious dreams.

But when the decadence of the adult world is so great that it seeps into the mind of a child, and that beautiful smile can turn into a snarl of hate and frustration. Our hopes for a better tomorrow are smashed, and all the pride in our technological advancements seem to shrivel into nothingness.

That is why we are so disturbed. Because if our children can stoop to such lows, what does this say about the adults from which it all trickles down?

Judaism teaches that from whatever occurs in life, there is a lesson to be learned. So what should society's response be to Colorado? Is it really metal detectors that will solve the problem?

Perhaps we should ask ourselves why 50 years ago the top problems in America's public schools were: talking out of turn, chewing gum, making noise, running in halls, cutting in line, dress code infractions, and littering. And today the problems are: drug and alcohol abuse, pregnancy, suicide, robbery, rape and assault.

Perhaps we should consider the overall effect of a society that teaches objectification of woman (pornography), that teaches disloyalty (adultery), that teaches lack of commitment (divorce), that teaches rights over responsibilities (frivolous lawsuits), and that teaches the blind pursuit of every lustful whim (the unregulated proliferation of violent video games, funereal rock music, comic-book fantasies and apocalyptic films).

The solution is not armed guards at schools, weapons sweeps, or a ban against wearing long blacks coats (as Denver school authorities imposed following he shootings).

Rather, it is getting adults to set examples for their children. The Hebrew word for parent comes from the root "teacher." And that is what we are, whether we like it or not.

So what point does it all boil down to? What one shift can society make to turn this ship around?

It's a basic spiritual issue. One forensic psychiatrist, specializing in children who commit multiple murders, examined the eight multiple murders committed by U.S. schoolchildren in the last three years. His conclusion? The common denominator amongst these children is that they have no connection with God.

Newsweek reported that the Colorado killers asked two female hostages a question: “Do you believe in God?” When they said "yes," the gunmen shot them at point-blank range.

The Sages, too, teach that belief in God is the primary deterrent to murder. How so?

The Ten Commandments are divided into two tablets. The first tablet (commandments 1-through-5) speak about relationship with God. The second tablet (commandments 6-through-10) speak about relationship with fellow man. The two tablets are parallel: The first commandment – "Believe in God" – corresponds to the sixth commandment – "Don't murder."

What's the connection?

Every human being is created with a holy, divine soul. We are not meaningless hunks of meat hurtling on a rock through space and time. We may be uncomfortable with the primacy of man – because of the responsibility that entails. But the alternative is that by teaching our children that they are no better than animals, they will treat each other as animals.

But it goes deeper than this. The recognition that God encompasses everything teaches that in the spiritual dimension, there are no conventional boundaries between entities. We are all one unit. When we appreciate this, then hurting the other guy – “paying him back" – is as ridiculous as hurting yourself. If you're slicing a carrot and accidentally cut your finger, do you take the knife and cut your other hand in revenge? Of course not. Why? Because your other hand is part of you, too.

Of course, love of God is erroneous if it doesn't translate into care for others. Imagine the irony of a “believer” shooting abortion doctors, or burning infidels at the stake. True love of God brings greater humility, not indignant self-righteousness.

To teach kids to care for others, they need to experience the joy of giving. The Torah says that "the external awakens the internal." This means that even if you find it difficult to love others, you can still do actions that demonstrate love – with the understanding that this will ultimately affect your insides.

Children are only a reflection of the adult world in which they live. What happened in Colorado should serve as warning about the effect that society is having on our children. Perhaps this tragedy can strengthen our children in the path of Torah, setting shining examples for the next generation.

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