Collateral Damage

As this week’s Torah portion opens, a prominent Israelite named Korach ben Yizhar, together with two hundred and fifty chieftains, publicly revolts against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Korach’s grievance is is expressed thus:

They combined against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the LORD is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourself about the LORD’s congregation?” (Numbers 16:3)

The rebellion does not go well for Korach, to put it mildly – at the climax of this episode, the earth opens up to swallow him, his followers, their families and all of their possessions.

One of the most common issues folks have with this troubling story has to do with the “collateral damage.” Even if we assume (as many commentators do) that Korach and his followers were self- serving charlatans who deserved what they got in the end, why on earth did their “wives, their children, and their little ones” have to be swallowed up as well?

It is ironic that Korach, who purports to have the good of the people at heart, ends up destroying them. Indeed, though he speaks the rhetoric of the masses, his actions ultimately lead to a tragedy of massive proportions. In this regard we might claim that Korach’s primary failing was not hubris per se, but his willingness to let his zealous attachment to a single principle endanger the safety and well-being of his community.

This lesson has particular relevance this Shabbat, coming as it does one day after the US Supreme Court struck down a gun-control law in Washington DC, ruling that the Second Amendment protects the right to possess a firearm unconnected with militia service and to use it for “traditional lawful purposes.” It is clear that this landmark ruling – the first time in 70 years that the High Court has ruled on the Second Amendment – will lead to widespread challenges to gun control laws across the country.

It is equally clear that this ruling will have a real effect on public safety in our nation. An editorial in today’s NY Times put it aptly:

Thirty-thousand Americans are killed by guns every year — on the job, walking to school, at the shopping mall. The Supreme Court on Thursday all but ensured that even more Americans will die senselessly with its wrongheaded and dangerous ruling striking down key parts of the District of Columbia’s gun-control law.

This is a decision that will cost innocent lives, cause immeasurable pain and suffering and turn America into a more dangerous country. It will also diminish our standing in the world, sending yet another message that the United States values gun rights over human life.

There already is a national glut of firearms: estimates run between 193 million and 250 million guns. The harm they do is constantly on heartbreaking display. Thirty-three dead last year in the shootings at Virginia Tech. Six killed this year at Northern Illinois University. On Wednesday, as the court was getting ready to release its decision, a worker in a Kentucky plastics plant shot his supervisor, four co-workers and himself to death.

I have written before on the importance of gun control from a Jewish perspective. According to halacha, pikuach nefesh – the preservation of life – is the most sacrosanct commandment, taking precedence over all other commandments, obligations, or even “rights” (as we would say here in America). As such, I would argue that gun control is a critical spiritual imperative for our national community.

If you agree, check out the Brady Campaign for more info and actions you can take in the wake of this latest ominous ruling.

2 Replies to “Collateral Damage”

  1. Thank you for the Brady Campaign connection. I was in the Million Mom March on Mother’s Day 2000. We had high hopes.

    The NRA is such a well financed empire that I truly believe it has the power to influence the presidential election, as it has in the past.

    A Public health and safety issue has been twisted and politicized.

  2. This decision by the current Supreme Court only emphasizes the necessity for change at the very top. Two or three of the Supreme Court justices are way past retirement age, and the next president will name new ones. We hope that the Court’s views will not be so one=sided in the future. We must all work to help ensure that change.

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