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Reflections on the Orlando Shooting

June 20, 2016

Before we recite the prayers for government of the United States and Israel, I want to take a few moments to reflect on the horrific shooting that took place last weekend in Orlando.  

I’ve been commenting to many people that Shavuot at Netivot was really amazing, and in particular last Monday highlighted for me Netivot at its best.  I thought that the divrei Torah and davening in shul were fantastic, the kidush celebrating the Zuckerbergs, and then the program in the afternoon celebrating the kids’ learning.  It was really an amazing example of what our shul is. 

And while we were enjoying such a glorious Yom Tov there were already some who were aware of what had happened the night before in Orlando and some – myself included – who remained in our isolated bubble. 

I chose to address what happened in Orlando at this point in the davening because the way in which we recite the prayers for the government is one of the ways that makes our shul and our community unique.  I believe that our shul has a unique response to offer in wake of the tragedy.

The parsha this week contains in it the description of the Sotah – a woman who is suspected of adultery by her husband.  The woman is subjected to a “trial by ordeal” to determine if she has in fact been unfaithful.  It is a very difficult and troubling law.  One detail of the Sotah ritual is that the curses that would befall her were written out with God’s name, ,which was then submerged in a mixture of water and was erased.  This is one of the most terrible things that can be done – to erase God’s name and many explain that it was done to impress upon the woman the severity of the accusations and of the crime if she is guilty.  But the Talmud (Shabbat 116a) gives a very different explanation.  The Talmud states that God’s name was erased as part of the Sotah ritual in order להביא שלום בין איש לאשה – to bring peace between husband and wife.  Clearly we are dealing with a  marriage under stress and the relationship between this couple is far from ideal.  And Hashem tells us that if it will help to heal their relationship, to bring peace to the world, then He is willing to let His name be erased.

It is this attitude that has to inform our reaction to what happened in Orlando.  This incident has raised many important issues that our society continues to wrestle with:  The status of those who are GLBTQ; gun control; what our response to terrorism and extremism ought to be, etc.  These are important issues that must be hashed out.  But taking our cue from Hashem, they must be hashed out with a sense of love and a desire to bring peace and compassion to the world.

With that in mind, I’d like to share a couple of paragraphs of a very powerful letter written by Rabbi Shai Held, a Conservative rabbi from whom I’ve had the privilege of learning and interacting.  The entirety of Rabbi Held’s letter is included below.  I have bolded the parts that I read in shul: (

An Open Letter to People Who Are LGBTQ

These are excruciating days in America, but I imagine that they are particularly painful for you.

I’d like to share a message that I believe lies at the very heart of Jewish theology: God loves you. (Don’t let anyone tell you that this idea is exclusively Christian; it isn’t.)

Rabbi Akiva, one of Judaism’s greatest sages, tells us that each and every human being is beloved by God because we are—all of us, without exception—created in the image of God. In other words, you don’t need to earn God’s love; it is given to you with your existence, the gift of a loving God.

No amount of hatred or bigotry can ever change that simple but stunning fact: as a human being, you matter, and matter ultimately.

One of the biggest problems with religion is that people stubbornly, insistently reduce God to their own size; they imagine that God loves the same people they love, and that God hates the people they hate. This is not just insidious theology; it’s actually idolatry, because people are just worshiping a blown up version of themselves. So let me say it simply: God’s love transcends all of that.

When your parents reject you, God loves you; when your friends or classmates make fun of you, God loves you; when your priest, minister, imam, or rabbi tells you that you are an abomination, God loves you; when politicians cater to people’s basest prejudices, God loves you. No matter how many times and in how many ways people make you feel less than human, God knows otherwise, and God loves you. When you feel frightened, or abandoned, or humiliated, I hope the unshakeable conviction that God loves you can help hold you and enable you to persevere.

What it really means to be a religious person is to strive to love the people God loves—which means, ultimately, to try to love everyone. Where this is concerned, the history of human civilization is filled with one horrific failure after another. White people still struggle to see that people of color are no less human, and no less precious than they; people who are wealthy often forget that people who are poor are no less human, and no less precious, than they; people who are able-bodied all too often fail to see that people with disabilities are no less human, and no less precious, than they; and yes, people who are straight are just beginning to see that people of varying sexual orientations and identities are no less human, and no less precious, than they. As a theologian and a pastor, I would just like to beg you: don’t let other people’s confusions and biases make you forget: God loves you, and you are no less human, and no less precious than anyone else.

As a straight man, I want to say without equivocation: I stand with you. And I hope that every person who has ever considered me their teacher stands with you as well. And I look forward to the day when humanity as a whole can stand together and say with one voice: each and every one of us is created in the image of God, and is therefore infinitely valuable. No one of us is less human, or less precious than any other.

In these dark days, I extend to you my heart as well as my hand. More people are with you than perhaps you know, or even imagine. May God bless you.


From → LGBTQ, Parsha, Terrorism

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