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The Definition of Insanity (Devarim – 08/10/19)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

The Definition of Insanity
Two hundred fifty-five mass shootings and counting in 2019 alone[1]. This past weekend, thirty-one innocent, precious lives were lost because of bigotry, racism, and a lack of effort to protect its citizenry by our federal government. Who doesn’t know what Columbine, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas, Parkland, Charleston, Pittsburgh, and now Dayton and El Paso have in common? How much has changed regarding gun control since the Columbine massacre twenty years ago?
This past Shabbat was Tisha B’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, commemorating many tragedies over the past 2500 years, but most notably, the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem.
The first temple was destroyed by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, in the year 586 BCE. Babylon, after the Assyrians, was the second great power to conquer wide swaths of the world and force their victims into servitude.
Such happened to Judah. Nebuchadnezzar removed the ruling king and placed his uncle, Tzidkiyahu, in charge, making him swear fealty. The Bible then describes what caused the Temple’s ultimate downfall (II Chronicles 36:11-13):
“11. Tzidkiyahu was twenty and one years old when he began to reign; and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem;
12. and he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD his God; he humbled not himself before Jeremiah the prophet speaking from the mouth of the LORD.
13. And he also rebelled against king Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God; but he stiffened his neck, and hardened his heart from turning unto the LORD, the God of Israel.”
Simply, the destruction was wrought because Nebuchadnezzar’s puppet, Tzidkiyahu, rebelled. Yet, the rabbis saw a particular flaw in the leadership of the times that was the underlying cause of the destruction.
The Talmud (Nedarim 65a) discusses the rules of vows between one person and another. It concludes that one may dissolve such a vow or oath only in the presence of the party affect by the vow or oath, and brings a proof from an episode with King Tzidkiyahu: “And he also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God” (II Chronicles 36:13).
The Gemara asks: What was his rebellion? It answers: Tzidkiyahu once interrupted Nebuchadnezzar when he was eating, and behold he was devouring a live rabbit! The latter was ashamed to be seen doing this. He said to him: Take an oath to me that you will not reveal my behavior and this matter will not emerge in public. Tzidkiyahu took an oath to him.
Later, Tzidkiyahu was suffering, as he wanted to tell people what he had seen, but he could not do so due to his oath. He requested dissolution of his oath from the judges of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish High Court), who dissolved it for him, and he publicly said what he had witnessed. Nebuchadnezzar heard that he was being ridiculed for his behavior. He sent for and brought the Sanhedrin and Tzidkiyahu before him. He said to them: Did you see what Tzidkiyahu has done? Did he not take an oath in the name of Heaven that he will not reveal? They said to him: He requested dissolution of the oath.
He said to them: Can one request the dissolution of an oath? They said to him: Yes. He said to them: Must this be done in the presence of the person he took an oath to, or even not in his presence? They said to him: It must be dissolved in his presence. He said to them: And you, what did you do? What is the reason you did not say to Tzidkiyahu that he can have his oath dissolved only in my presence? Immediately, they fulfilled the verse: “They sit upon the ground, and keep silence, the elders of the daughter of Zion” (Lamentations 2:10).
What caused the destruction of Judah in ancient times? Not the impudence of a foolish king; rather the cowardice of the members of the Jewish High Court.
Regardless of what really happened historically, the rabbis pinned the destruction of the Temple on the lack of backbone of the members of the Jewish High Court/Congress. If they wouldn’t have capitulated to power, but rather stood up for what is right, the Temple would not have been destroyed.
It seems that things have not changed much in 2600 years. Do the members of Congress really believe that no change in gun control was needed over this twenty-year of span mass shootings or are they capitulating to outside influences and lobbies? One thing we see clearly is that our gun control laws need to change. The saying, “What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing and expecting different results” certainly applies to our gun control laws.
I’m not a politician nor an expert on gun control, but I know well enough that we just can’t leave the laws the same and expect different results. Like the members of the Sanhedrin 2600 years ago, we need our leaders to have the strength to stand up to power and take the right steps for our country, and it’s up to us to pressure them to do so.
Let’s force change, so that we can live in a safer America.

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