In the recent days, months and years, incidences of youth using violence against others has increased in a horrific way. In the recent Parkland tragedy, 17 lives were taken, the pain heart-wrenching and unimaginable. In the wake of this tragedy, we hear voices of different parties expressing the need to rein in on gun control, get guns off the streets, etc.
I would like to suggest a deeper issue as the root cause of the problem.
If you had a choice to send your child to a private Catholic school to be educated or a public school, which would you choose? And if you had a choice to live in a country with a religious government versus a country with a completely secular government, where would you want to live?
The first of the Ten Commandments is “I am God your God,” the command to believe in one God. Belief in one God is also the first of the Seven Noahide Laws, laws given to all mankind. Whether we are Jewish or not Jewish, we have the obligation as human beings to believe in one God, as belief in Something or Someone higher than us gives us a sense of moral accountability. Belief in God is the basis on which everything else sits upon, as the Ibn Ezra writes, “The First Commandment is the foundation upon which all the commandments are built. After that comes the command ‘You shall not have for yourself any other gods…’ The corruption of one who does not believe in God is greater than the corruption of one who worships idols… as [the idol worshipers] also believe in God, only they incorporate others with Him.”
Belief in God does not have to be connected to religion; it is just the basis of how we can lead a moral, human life, having a Higher Power that we know we are accountable to for our actions.
Following the shooting of President Reagan in 1981, the Lubavitcher Rebbe asked, “Why would someone do such an irrational act? The Baal Shem Tov teaches us that we must learn from everything that happens, and so we must learn a lesson from this too. John Hinckley Jr. came from a wealthy family and his every need seemed to be provided for. The root of his actions, then, was not a result of poverty. We must look for the cause somewhere else. The education that children receive today is the accumulation of knowledge without regard to the purpose toward where this knowledge should be directed—to creating true goodness for oneself, true goodness for one’s surroundings, and to improve one’s character and train oneself to behave in a moral manner. The education is not permeated with the belief that there is a Higher Authority to whom one is responsible—“An Eye that sees and an Ear that hears.” As a result, the education the child receives is wholly self-serving and they feel entitled to use this knowledge for any purpose they desire…”
In medieval times, the world suffered from an excess of religious zeal and intolerance. In our day, the world is suffering from an excessive indifference to religion, or even from a growing materialism and atheism. The history-based arguments about the potential danger of government becoming aligned, or even just minimally involved, with religion fail to take into account the other side of the picture: what happens when society abandons belief in a Higher Authority to whom humanity is responsible for its actions. (Correspondence of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, April 8, 1964)
If we take a look at societies that had no belief other than in their own intellect, we see that in actuality, many were tyrannical and among the most inhumane in history, Nazism and Communism for example.
A life of atheism can be more dangerous than one of religion, and yet belief in God does not have to be bound to religion. Religious belief and zeal that does not respect human life is dangerous too and wrong, yet when children are educated in an environment where God can’t be mentioned or there is no emphasis on accountability for their actions, then their life becomes one only about fulfilling what they want and doing whatever pleases them, rather than striving to do what is right. If we can educate our children with knowledge and responsibility of God Who wants us to do good, then we have ensured the most positive force in the creation of a just and civilized society.
“Unfortunately, in public schools and colleges, many of the subjects are taught in a way that, directly or indirectly, cause the student to conclude that there is no Master of the world. This denial is a violation of the Noahide laws according to all opinions. It may be in fact preferable that non-Jewish children are educated in their [Christians] schools rather than in public schools. As is known, a complete heretic is worse than an idol worshipper.” (The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Collection of Talks, Vol. 8:302-303)
A Moment of Silence in public schools, 60 seconds of silence a day used for personal reflection, is a campaign many are in support of and many are opposed to. If this can be 60 seconds that has nothing to do with religion, can it be allowed? Does Separation of Church and State equal denial of a Higher Power? Does it mean not allowing the idea of God to be spoken about in schools? Or, was it established for protection that no one religion can rule the country and enforce their laws? These are questions for debate and discussion, with many different sides and opinions. I do know that our country was founded on the acceptance of a Higher Power: “In God we Trust” is written on our dollar bill, “One nation under God” is said in the Pledge of Allegiance. We hear many loud voices opposing the moment of silence. I will just bring you two points that may shed a different light on it.
- 1. In the case of Zorach v. Clauson, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld that the nation’s “institutions presuppose a Supreme Being” and that government recognition of God does not constitute the establishment of a state church as the Constitution’s authors intended to prohibit.
- 2. In connection with a moment of silence, U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton ruled: “The court finds that the Commonwealth’s daily observance of one minute of silence is constitutional. The act was enacted for a secular purpose, does not advance or inhibit religion, nor is there excessive entanglement with religion… Students may think as they wish, and this thinking can be purely religious in nature or purely secular in nature. All that is required is that they sit silently.”
Our country’s fathers established a country with religious freedom, not that there is no God. I think that belief in God can lead us to a more focused life—that does not necessarily have to be a religious one.
A Godless world equals a goodless world. A God world equals a good world.
May we raise and teach our children and ourselves that there is a God above, One for all, Who wants us to make the right choices, do good and hold ourselves responsible for our actions. In this way we will have a more peaceful, tranquil and safer society.
May the families of the Parkland massacre be comforted and may God give them strength. May they merit to be reunited with their loved ones in the time of the ultimate goodness, with the coming of Moshiach today.
By Rabbi Mordechai Shain
Rabbi Mordechai Shain is the founder and rabbi of Lubavitch on the Palisades in Tenafly, New Jersey. He can be reached at [email protected].