The bumper sticker on the car in front of me read “my loved one was murdered.” I automatically fill in “by gun violence.” I know the statistics. I want to jump out of my car and say to this person, “I am so sorry.” We are weeping in my congregation because another loved one was gunned down on our streets. In Dodge City, people were required to leave their guns with Marshal Dillon. Who is in charge of the guns that flood our streets like a Biblical plague?
In Vayikra, 19:16, in Leviticus, in the heart of the Torah we read: Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor; You shall not stand idle while your neighbor bleeds. Ani Adonai. I am G-d.
“Al,” the Hebrew word for idly, is made up of two letters, ayin and lamed; it is such a small word, ripe with so many meanings, usually translated as “idly.” “Al” can mean “upon” or “on”: don’t stand upon, don’t stand on the blood of your neighbor, but we do, but we are. When we do nothing in the face of the gun violence that is leaving pools of our neighbors’ blood across our country, we are standing idly upon our neighbors’ blood. We are standing on the blood of our neighbor and it is our bloody footprints that leave silent marks as we turn and walk away, once again.
Lo taamod al dam rei’echa: don’t stand idly, al, at, the blood of your neighbor. For “al” can be translated as the word “at.” Why are we constantly standing at the blood of our neighbor, and staring, wordless, mute? Why do we just stand there? “Al” also means “over,” lo taamod al dam rei’echa; don’t stand over the blood of your neighbor. Are we casting our shadows over our neighbors’ blood, our soundless shadows, leaving no mark that we were there, that we saw, we noticed our neighbors’ blood and we just stood over it?
“Al,” this unique and tiny word, so potent with meaning, can also be translated as “high up,” “above” … lo taamod al dam rei’echa, don’t stand high up, above your neighbors’ blood, but isn’t that in fact where we are standing, high up, above, looking down from afar … claiming we are too high up to actually see what is happening. We are too far away to be able to do anything. But not today.
Today: Isn’t it past time to rise up for Charleston, for Newton, for Columbine, for Aurora; to rise up for Virginia Tech, for Chicago, for D.C., for Tucson? We must refuse to stand idly by, over, upon, on, or high above the blood of our neighbor. We need to act and be together; we need to become a great calling out; our voices strengthened by common ground and goals. Our verse concludes with two words, “ani Adonai.” I am G-d; calling you to do this mitzvah, this commandment, do not stand idly by; do not live in fear, waiting for the next devastation. Take action. Be bold and brave and determined and strong. The Talmud states: the person who saves one life; it is as though he saved the world entire. The person who takes one life; it is as though she killed the world entire. It is time to be among those who save lives. It is time to demand of ourselves and each other that we do everything that is humanly possible for us to do as a community and as a country to end gun violence.
There’s a mitzvah, a commandment, to make good on. Just last night, in a neighborhood in our country, someone’s loved one, their precious daughter, his loving brother, her beloved husband, was shot down. Begin your work immediately; rise up for our country; rise up and take a stand that is not idle or meaningless, but one that can save the world entire.