Jubilee year idealism shows way to counter gun violence


By Rabbi Amy Feder

I signed up months ago to write this week’s d’var Torah. I remember thinking what a fun parasha this would be to share with you all. I love the discussion of the jubilee year and of the gifts made to the sanctuary, and of the idealism that closes out the book of Leviticus before returning to the biblical narrative in Numbers. I had lots of ideas about what I wanted to write.

Rabbi Amy Feder

Then, a few minutes ago, before I intended to start writing, I drove my son and his friend to a movie. Like many parents with young teenagers, I spend quite a bit of my time as a chauffeur, quietly shuttling children who, while sitting in the back seat, seem to forget that I’m there and talk openly about whatever’s on their minds.  

Today’s back-seat conversation went like this: 

“They cancelled the big game in Texas today because it got rained out.”  

Advertisement: The Grande at Chesterfield

“Right, and also probably because of the mall shooting there. I heard eight people were killed.” 

“Yeah. Did you know there have been more mass shootings this year than there have even been days?”  

And then they got out of the car, waved goodbye to me and went into the theater without a backward glance. 

That was it.  

I sat in my car for a few minutes, unable to move. It wasn’t that they had been blasé about the shooting. It’s just that nothing fazes them anymore. They have learned how to hear this horrific news, take it in and move on.  

While the fact that they are able to do so may mean that they are blessedly far more resilient than I am, it breaks my heart that they have had to build that kind of resilience. How have we given them a country in which mass violence is so commonplace that it hardly registers? 

I don’t have an answer for how to stop gun violence in our country. Like many of you, I have read and listened to countless experts and politicians speak on the topic, and minds far brighter than mine have presented ideas that have one by one been rejected, discounted or ignored. It has gotten to a point where it seems that most people have simply thrown up their hands and assumed this is a problem that’s impossible to fix.

Yet I find myself drawn back to the parasha and the lessons we can find in ancient wisdom. The Torah presents us with an idea of a jubilee year, which was essentially a complete socio-economic refresh when everyone could start with a clean slate.  Many scholars suggest that such an idea was probably more a dream than a reality, an impossibly utopian vision for society. 

Yet we keep studying it, keep dreaming about it, because we know that it presents an idea for a society that we should be striving for. It gives us a vision for a world in which people are given hope and security and the tools to work together to have another chance to be the best versions of themselves and their society.  

In our own day, we need to keep doing the same when it comes to striving for a world without mass shootings. This is not nearly as complicated as the jubilee year. We should be able to do this.  We need these teachings to remind us that even seemingly impossible visions of society are worth striving for and that we must continue coming up with wild dreams and goals for perfect communities in the hope that at least some of them might just work.  

This week’s parasha also gives us the words inscribed on the Liberty Bell: Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.  

May this be the year when we have the liberty to live our lives without fear, when our children should not need to casually accept the brokenness we continue to hand to them. May the visions for the kind of society we all wish for ourselves and the next generation be more than just a dream.