When I woke up this morning, I was hit by the news of the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand and was revolted. Forty-nine people dead so far, scores more injured and it would be of little surprise if more died from their injuries. And, from all accounts, it appears that the one suspect we know about is a white nationalist, xenophobe, hater of Moslems and now a young man with the dubious title of being the greatest mass-murderer in New Zealand history.
He said in his manifesto that was posted online that he was radicalized by the hate on the Internet. He planned methodically to act on his hate even going so far as to put a camera on his helmet filming, and from what I can gather uploading in real time, what he was doing. Over time, psychologists and sociologists, criminalists and economists will put forth their theories. But, in truth, nothing will change. Scores will still be dead and it will be only a matter of time before the next one. And there always is a next one – even in one of the most peaceful countries on the face of the earth.
I place the Torah portion for this week beside this horrific news. We begin the book of Leviticus which is often thought of as sort of outdated, unnecessary and dealing with things that have no bearing on the real world. It is a book filled – for the most part – with the sacrifices. Bar and bat mitzvah students dread Leviticus. But when they delve deeper they find that Leviticus is not only relevant but profoundly meaningful.
What were the purposes of the sacrifices? Regardless of the type of sacrifice – sin offering, peace offering, meal offering, thanks offering, and so forth – the sacrifices were for one thing and one thing only: connection with the holy. Everyone could offer a sacrifice from their flock or their herd. Each voice was heard and, according to our tradition, each sacrifice was accepted by God. The sacrifice gave the giver a sense of peace and conflicts felt resolved and reconciliation between God was achieved. Regardless of the size of the sacrifice, each was considered equally holy.
The Moslems who were massacred were celebrating their Shabbat. Moslems observe their day of rest on Friday. In other words, they were celebrating Shabbat services. They were harming no one. Perhaps they were talking about reconciliation. Perhaps they were praying for peace. Perhaps they wanted to offer thanks to God. Whatever they were praying for, they were praying and seeking their own sense of holiness. Their prayers and the prayers of the sincere Christian and Jew and Jain and Hindu and Buddhist and Zorastrian, etc., are all holy when they seek to reach God and seek peace perfecting the world with respect, honor, love and commitment to something greater than themselves.
Some of the stories are beginning to filter out from this terrible event. One that particularly strikes me is from an eyewitness who was serving as the usher of the congregation this morning. He welcomed the shooter into the mosque with what were to be his final words: ‘Welcome brother.” The ‘brother’ then shot him down and he was the first one killed. But those last words, ‘Welcome brother’ is moment of holiness that each of us can and should learn from. His final sacrifice was his holiest one: words of love and compassion. He was killed in a most unholy way but his last words will be his legacy. I imagine God welcoming him to the world to come with those same words: “Welcome brother.”
I hope we can do the same.