The 1999 tragedy of a high school shooting in Colorado continues to trouble us long after the event.
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. In the heart of a child lies the kernel of potential from which germinates society's most precious hopes for the future.
The beautiful innocent smile of a child can turn into a twisted grimace of hate and frustration.
But when the decadence of the adult world is so great that it seeps into the mind of a child, then that beautiful innocent smile can turn into a twisted grimace of hate and frustration. Our hopes for a better tomorrow are smashed, and all the pride in our technological advancement seems to shrivel into nothingness.
That is why we are so disturbed. Because if our supposedly innocent children are capable of such heinous acts, what does this say about the adults from whom it all trickles down?
From Whence the Problems?
Judaism teaches that 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 today the problems are:
- drug and alcohol abuse
Perhaps we should consider the overall effect of a society that teaches:
- objectification of woman (pornography)
- disloyalty (adultery)
- lack of commitment (divorce)
- rights over responsibilities (frivolous lawsuits)
- the blind pursuit of every 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.
There is a custom that the father of the Bar Mitzvah boy recites a blessing after his son reads from the Torah. The blessing states:
Blessed be He Who has relieved me of the responsibility for this child's transgressions.
However, the custom is not to mention God's name in reciting this blessing. Why not?
Because perhaps the blessing in not fully accurate. Because even though the child is now technically an adult, the parent may still be responsible for the child's future transgressions (either directly or indirectly). Because perhaps the parents taught the child the improper behavior through bad example, or perhaps the parents did not try to correct the negative behavior.
Created in God's Image
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.
Newsweek reported that the Colorado killers asked two female hostages a question: "Do you believe in God?" When the hostages answered "yes," the gunmen shot them at point-blank range.
One forensic psychiatrist, specializing in children who commit multiple murders, examined the eight such crimes committed by U.S. schoolchildren in the last three years. His conclusion? The common denominator amongst these children is that they had no connection with God.
A common denominator among child killers is having no connection with God.
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-thru-5) speak about our relationship with God. The second tablet (commandments 6-thru-10) speak about our relationships with our 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 that entails. But the alternative is that by teaching our children that they are no better than animals, they will treat each other as such.
All One Unit
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.
If you're slicing a carrot and cut your finger, do you cut your other hand in revenge?
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.
Love of God is the most primary value to teach our children. Here are some practical ways to do it:
- Open a discussion of "Who is God" and how to build a relationship.
- Institute family prayer at mealtime.
- Take a walk through nature and appreciate the genius of the Creator.
When we love God, we love His children who are created in the image of God.
Make It Real
Of course, love of God is fictitious 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 love for humanity and 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 things that demonstrate love ― with the understanding that this will ultimately affect your inner self.
Here are some practical suggestions:
- Volunteer to serve meals at a homeless shelter.
- Make an effort to spare others financial loss.
- Visit some patients at the local hospital.
- Don't embarrass anyone ― especially in public.
- Don't gossip about others.
- Invite your friends to a Shabbat dinner.
- Show respect to the elderly.
- Find a poor person in your community, and undertake to assist him.
Children are only a reflection of the adult world in which they live. What happened in Colorado should serve as a warning about the effect that society is having on our children.
As there is always good in everything, perhaps this tragedy can strengthen our children in the path of Torah, making them shining examples for the next generation.