Judaism teaches that all human life is equally precious—a biblical value held dear by most people in the West. In fact the constitution of the United States reiterates this Judaic value by saying that all men were created equal. It is therefore immensely disturbing to read about the loss of life wherever it occurs.
Just as I began to write this article there was a news item which stated 233 people were murdered in Baghdad by a series of bomb blasts. Together with all civilized people my heart breaks for this pointless loss of human life and for the victims’ families.
Memorial ceremony at university (Photo: AP)
Human life must be sacred no matter which country or culture it comes from and loss of life in any part of the world is equally tragic. Nonetheless the massacre that took place this week in the United States is being mourned by people here to a greater degree than they would grieve for deaths that occur elsewhere. Clearly with the slaughter of 32 young people in Virginia Tech came the loss of something else as well.
Ultimate form of egotismTraditional Jewish sources maintain that all expressions of ego are destructive; however, murder is the worst sort of crime because it implies that the life of the victim is less valuable then that of the murderer—the ultimate form of egotism. Sadly, in some parts of the world this severe form of self-centeredness is a way of life—entire groups of people maintain that their ideology, religion and lives are more valuable then those of their adversaries. This is the cause of the killing happening in Iraq and elsewhere.
Conversely the values of the United States—in common with other democracies around the world—are predicated on the fact that all people are equal and have the right to express themselves and worship as individuals.
While sitting in my car listening for the first time about the Virginia Tech bloodbath, however, I immediately felt vulnerable. The United States gives its citizens the right to own guns and especially here in Colorado most people possess a weapon. How can I be sure that some madman will not go on another killing spree near me, I worried.
Principle valuesNormally, because of the inherent trust amongst people that they will not use their weapons to hurt others, most feel safe. This trust is not just because of an effective law enforcement system. It is because people in the USA share some principle values and high amongst them is the respect and value of each human life. It is this common value of humility and therefore respect for the individuality of others that makes us safe despite the fact that most of our neighbors own arms with which they can easily kill us.
When mass killing occurs in a country like the United States there is more at stake. Besides the obvious sense of mourning due to the tragic loss of human life at the hands of a lone deranged gunman, people here are also grieving the injury done their most cherished values—the equal respect and worth for each human life. That this bothers us so deeply gives me hope.
Rabbi Levi Brackman is executive director of Judaism in the Foothills and the author of numerous articles on a whole range of topics and issues, many of which can be found on his website . He is also the President of The Movement for a Tolerant World