I’m angry. You may not agree with me about this, but I believe our venerated Supreme Court has perpetrated a great injustice upon us. How could five learned justices conclude that the second amendment guarantees an individual right to own a gun for self-defense? Constitutional interpretation aside, how could any sane human conclude that owning weapons is a good thing? Weapons have but one purpose – to injure or kill, or, at the very least, frighten someone into believing that might be killed or injured. (Of course, saying "defense" sounds better, but let’s lay our cards on the table here. Defense is really just offense with a positive spin.)
Sadly, I must conclude that a lot of biblical text, of which our parasha is an example, is responsible for the mind set that conflict is inevitable, and that, therefore, weapons and threats are necessary to "maintain the peace."
You know, if Moshe and Aharon had guns, Korakh’s little rebellion might have been stopped in its tracks without needing any Divine interference. If Korakh and his band had guns, things might have turned out differently….oh, wait. No, they wouldn’t. G"d plays favorites. After all, almonds are a man’s best friend:
(with apologies to Jule Styne)
A tall wooden staff
May be quite continental
But almonds are a priest’s best friend.
A fire in a pan
Can be quite detrimental
To your G"d you’ll give
But watch or you just won’t live
G"d gets mad
Don’t be a cad,
Or we’ll all lose our lives in the end.
But your staff or my staff,
They’re just like a gold calf,
Almonds are a priest’s best friend.
(Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.)
I guess the five justices were right. If we exist in a Divine creation in which the Divine Creator thinks nothing of wiping out tens of thousands, yeah, even a group of 250, then we live in a universe in which its Creator doesn’t value its creations very highly. It turns the very idea of b’tzelem Elokim into a travesty. If we are made in G"d’s image, and G"d can so callously kill, then I guess maybe it’s okay for each of us to own a gun. Let’s give every baby a gun when it is born! Yeah, whoopee! Don’t like something someone else did? Bam. Wipe ’em out. Enough of this and you have the deathly version of the old idea that following "an eye for an eye…" will leave a world full of the blind and toothless. Only we’d have a world full of…nothing. Just dead bodies.
This whole 2nd amendment debate bears a striking resemblance to many of the debates within Biblical scholarship – between literalists and contextualists, fundamentalists and relevantists, minimalists and maximalists. Of course, if we can’t be certain, after only 232 years or so, of what the intent of the founding fathers and drafters of the Constitution was, even though we know so much about the actual context, then how much more futile must it appear to attempt to know the intent of the creators of (or Creator of) the Torah, when we can be even less certain of their context.
For most of us, today, it is all about the individual. Individual rights and responsibilities. Individual relationships with the Divine. Individual forms of worship and prayer. The cummulative wisdom of our Jewish tradition seems to teach the opposite – that it is all about community, of the people acting together. The question is, what happens when the people disagree with one another?
Would that G"d were truly manifest to us. Then G"d could make it quite clear to us which of our "choices" G’d wants us to choose (there-that nicely sums up the Jewish position of all is pre-ordained by G"d, yet each of us has free will.) The problem with the Korakh story is that the consequences of choice could be death at the hands of a capricious and jealous G"d. Couldn’t G"d have just spoken upl in full hearing of Korakh and all the people, and said "No! I want Moses to be in charge. OK? Get it? Got it? Good!" Now, to some extent, and to be fair, the little sprouting staff thing is similar, though a little less direct. Still, did 14, 950 people (you do the math) really have to die just for G"d to make the point that Moses was to be in charge, and Aharon was to be the priest?
If we can’t even figure out the clear meaning of
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
which contains, in the first part, a classic abaltive absolutive (a Latin grammar construct) intended, purposefully, to limit the scope of the following clause, then how will we ever figure out:
" You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk."
There’s a wonderful irony. In the parasha, G"d gives the people a leader (and a high priest) without them asking it, and some of the people complain that leaders are lording over them unfairly – over this nation of priests and a holy people. In return, G’d smites the complainers. In the haftarah, G"d, through Shmuel, reluctantly gives the Israelites a King. The people, realizing they may have gone too far in daring to ask G"d for a King to rule over them implore Shmuel to intercede on their behalf with G"d for their sin. Shmuel tells the people that yes, they did indeed sin, but that G"d would still not abandon them.
Would that I could believe the closing words of Shmuel in the haftarah:
"For the sake of His (sic) great name, the L"rd will never abandon His (sic) people, seeing that the L"rd undertook to make you His (sic) people."
It may be so, but you gotta read the fine print. Trouble is, just like todays "fine print", the "fine print" of the Torah is often hard to understand.
How can I be so certain of the meaning of the second amendment, yet so uncertain as to the meaning of so much in the Torah? Do I really know the founding fathers any better than I do the ancestral founding fathers and mothers? In the end, all I can really know is what feels right to me, and what feels wrong. Making it easier for people to own guns feels wrong. G"d wiping out 14,950 people just to insure the people wouldn’t challenge Moses and Aharon feels wrong. Continuing to read and study Torah, even though what I read often feels wrong to me, feels right.
Sadly, I’m not sure how many "the community" agree with me on any of those.
©2008 by Adrian A. Durlester