Unity Candlelight Vigil
Mount Zion Baptist Church
Rabbi Jason Levine, Associate Rabbi, Temple Beth Am, Seattle

June 15, 2022

Mi Shebeirach Avoteinu v’Imoteinu, the God of our ancestors, we stand here before You, tears in our eyes, our hearts shattered, our souls aching from each beautiful life, each beautiful light that has been snuffed out by more gun violence. We stand here before You offering prayers of lamentation and songs of sorrow. We stand here before You in mourning, and united in love. We once again find ourselves Bamidbar, “in the wilderness.”

Just a few weeks ago, Jewish communities around the world began reading Bamidbar, the Hebrew name for the Fourth Book of the Torah, often called in English the Book of Numbers. As our ancestors were millennia ago, we are in our wilderness-state of confusion and loss, seeking our path towards goodness, peace, and safety. Yet, perhaps this path is actually found in this Hebrew wordplay for the name of the book – “wilderness” and “numbers.”

So often, with each new incident, each new mass shooting, each new act of hate, the numbers tally up. We quote statistics and large numbers, each so terrifying and sobering, as indeed they are. We ask and wonder how those numbers can grow so large? How have so many been lost? Yet, with these numbers, we enter into that wilderness, as we lose touch with the humanity of each person, the human value of each life lost.

Our Talmud, the central text of Jewish life, teaches this lesson, which is echoed in other religions as well, that “One who takes a life, it is though they have destroyed the entire world. And when one saves a life, it is though they have saved the entire world.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5). In this way, Judaism emphasizes the sanctity and eternal value of each human life.

The dehumanization of individuals and the carelessness with which human life is taken during incidents of gun violence stand in direct violation of these affirmations of our tradition. Therefore, as we find our way out of the wilderness, as we affirm each life and each person, we must do more. We, as Jews, as citizens, as people, are called upon to take action to prevent the loss of lives and end gun violence.

Judaism is a religion of action. Reciting a prayer without an accompanying action is considered a hallow blessing, and having a hallow blessing is worse than no blessing at all. There is a need for prayer, and there is a need to act. These come hand-in-hand. They must both exist, for they revive us, give our souls energy, and push us forward, working tirelessly, with elected officials, with organizations, with organized community, to reach that day soon when we are no longer in this wilderness.

God of comfort, God of strength, God of patience, God of love, we walk together with You on this path, honoring each person, not blinded by the numbers, and demand that action lead the way. It is time that we sit back no further. It is time to value each life through deeds, legislation, and change. It is time that we travel out of the wilderness of loss amid endless gun violence, and along the path to shalom, to wholeness, to peace.