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The San Bernardino Massacre And Prayer
Rabbi Benjamin Blech

The San Bernardino Massacre And Prayer

Why those who think “God isn’t fixing this” are wrong.


In the aftermath of the horrific terrorist attack in San Bernardino a new phrase – prayer shaming – has made its way into the coverage of much of the media. In its own way, it too is an attack on the spiritual values that define our civilized society.

“Prayer shaming” describes the reaction of a significant number of commentators in the press and social media to a response to tragedy that in the past would almost certainly have been greeted with respect and reverence. The blazing headline of the NY Daily News illustrated it most starkly. Following a caption in eye-catching red “14 dead in California mass shooting” a super large font screamed the message: “God isn’t fixing this”. That was trailed with these words: “As latest batch of innocent Americans are left lying in pools of blood, cowards who could truly end gun scourge continue to hide behind meaningless platitudes.”

Just in case you don’t fully understand the paper’s intent that prayers are no more than platitudes, that turning to God in a time of crisis is a cowardly reflex achieving nothing other than the avoidance of personal responsibility, the headline sarcastically adds quotes from four politicians offering prayers on behalf of the victims and their families in order to mock them as archaic and pious sentiments which have no place in the real world confronting evil and terror.

Our nation’s Pledge of Allegiance speaks of one nation under God. Prayer-shamers, however, don’t believe the Almighty “can fix” anything and any mention of His involvement in our affairs and any call for His assistance is nothing less than an abdication of our own obligations.

What an incredible perversion of faith and lack of understanding of prayer.

Man becomes truly powerful only when he comprehends his human powerlessness.

In a remarkable passage in the Torah we find the perfect paradigm for the relationship between prayer and personal responsibility, between our dependence on God and our recognition of the need for us to exert our own efforts to the best of our abilities. When Amalek attacked our ancestors shortly after the Exodus from Egypt, Moses instructed his disciple Joshua to form an army and fight the enemy. But at the same time Moses, aided by Aaron and Hur, son of Miriam, ascended a hill overlooking the battle in order to fervently pray for victory. The link between prayer and battle, divine assistance and human effort, was profoundly illustrated by what happened next. Whenever Moses lifted his hands in prayer the Jews gained the upper hand in combat. Whenever Moses stopped beseeching God, the tide of war shifted in favor of Amalek. Once understood, Moses didn’t stop praying for even a moment – and that is what assured victory.

Man needs God – and God wants man. Man becomes truly powerful only when he comprehends his human powerlessness. Prayer is the link between the creator and his creations. Without prayer man thinks he is God – and that unwarranted sense of ego insures his defeat and destruction.

And that is the meaning of faith. Faith is not knowing what the future holds. It is knowing who holds the future.

Faith is not knowing what the future holds. It is knowing who holds the future.

Prayer defines us. Prayer gives us hope. Prayer puts into words the values we hold most precious, the people we most treasure, the ideals for which we live and for which we are prepared to give up our lives.

When the survivors of the San Bernardino massacre realized they were saved they did what countless generations past did in similar circumstances. They prayed. They prayed because they could not help but express gratitude for their deliverance. And together with all those who heard of this calamitous event they joined in prayer for the souls of the victims. Those who perished will find eternal reward in the heavens above – and our prayers will keep alive their memories for us here on earth.

Prayers are not pointless. All prayers are heard by the Almighty. And all prayers are answered in God’s own and inscrutable ways.

So yes, God is fixing this - and the answer to the evils of Isis and the terrorists of our times is what it has always been, the partnership between our efforts and God’s intervention. For the first, we need to do battle; for the second we need not to shame but to share in a collective groundswell of impassioned prayer, the kind of prayer which will convince God that we truly deserve God’s redemptive intercession.

December 8, 2015

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Visitor Comments: 26

(19) Anonymous, December 13, 2015 5:06 PM

What is Journalism Today?

Very well articulated, and well analyzed Rabbi Blech. I can understand the anxiety in some of the responses to the article. However, we should not be blind to the reality and relevance of the topic regarding how the San Bernardino incident was reported by the Daily News. It was a true shame how they worded, and completely misleading, denoting that we should not pray to the Almighty because it wouldn't work. Shame on them. Aside from this, we can not be confused by comparing the Sandy Hook school massacre with the San Bernardino terror attack. Sandy Hook was committed by a mentally ill individual who had easy access to fire weapons provided by his own mother, without any intention on her part, to have her son killing anyone. Perhaps this could be perceived more as negligence from the mother, than the mental illness of the killer. The San Bernardino terror attack, on the other hand, was a very well thought, very well planned act of terror by Moslem terrorists. The article written by Rabbi Blech, to me was more about how the press, an entity with so much prestige and influence, was so careless and disrespectful in stating that "God Isn't Fixing This", in regard to the murder of 14 innocent people. Additionally, I don't believe that everyone should have gun, but at the same time, creating more gun laws and gun restriction will not make any difference if we look back at what happened with the Boston marathon. Those terrorists in Boston didn't need gun, but other tools to make the bombs that they used to kill and injure the innocents. Israel would be the best example, how many innocents jews have been killed by terrorists driving their cars right onto people standing at bus and train stations; or families driving on roads are suddenly ambushed by terrorists with knives. Many into synagogues with meat cleaver who killed the men praying. Obviously, the journalist and Daily News simply used the San Bernardino murder and God as a tools for political vendetta.

(18) Jennifer, December 11, 2015 3:47 PM

Error in My Last Post

I wanted to make a quick correction: I erroneously noted that this was the Post, and not the Daily News. Apologies! If this can be corrected by Aish, please feel free to do so!

(17) Jennifer, December 11, 2015 3:43 PM

I Respectfully Disagree

As others have stated, I do think this was misunderstood. The Post has a way of turning tragedy into headlines.
I grew up Conservative; my grandparents were Orthodox. I work in the Orthodox community. I have a strong connection to Judaism and G-d because I've been through some of the worst experiences anyone could ever fathom. Others lose faith when tragedy strikes; mine got stronger. I'm in a unique position to have a dialogue about this. Read below.

I co-founded WAVE: Women Against the Violence Epidemic last year with two close friends who are not only survivors of domestic violence, but also of gun violence (GV) at the hands of those who were supposed to love them. I, thank G-d, was not a GV victim but did survive over 20 years of virtually every type of violence imaginable, at the hands of my former husband.

If you talk to those who have been in these shoes, Rabbi, and really get them to open up to you, you will see how many times we've lobbied government officials. How many times we've sent petitions; spoken to news outlets; begged and pleaded with police to see what was happening.

Yet nothing did. There have been close to 150 school shootings since Newtown, and almost 1100 overall. We're tired of hearing platitudes after first graders are gunned down in a place where they should be safe. We're tired of our children practicing emergency drills. We're tired of hearing about change and then having those who should protect us, back down because they're caving to keeping their jobs, rather than doing the right thing.

I guess the Post is hearing us. They're some of the few who really are.

I ask that you read this by my friend Erica, whose mother was Dawn Lafferty, the Principal of Sandy Hook School and a true hero:

Then tell me the Post was wrong.

All the Best,
Jennifer Tetefsky

Nancy, December 14, 2015 8:42 AM

What's "the right thing"?

The "right thing" is often a matter of perspective and personal opinion. In cases of gun violence, the right thing involves a lot more than just more gun control. Unfortunately, those who advocate the loudest for it don't ever talk about anything else. Stricter gun laws alone won't solve anything.

(16) Chana, December 11, 2015 5:54 AM

Lesson from the Titanic

The headline about "G-d can't fix this" reminded of the maiden voyage of the Titanic: A huge newspaper headline proclaimed on the morning of its launching: "Even G_d Can't Sink This" . And Hashem answered with a thin sliver of ice. No one should know from such things. But to flaunt Heaven -

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