Virginia Tech shooting: A religious reflection


Omar Samaha touches his sister Reema’s stone at a memorial for the Virginia Tech shooting victims in 2008. (Katherine Frey/THE WASHINGTON POST)
December 8, 2011

The two people shot dead on the Virginia Tech campus today and the subsequent lockdown of the campus remind us all of the horrible shooting that took place on April 16, 2007.

To think that the campus is going through a tragic shooting again is literally heartbreaking.

When we hear of such evil acts it is often emotionally devastating and depressing. We are all affected by it. I want to share with you some thoughts about how we can respond to this terrible act in a spiritual manner.

The Torah makes clear that the idea of pure evil existing in the world is something that has been with us since the time of the Exodus from Egypt. The Torah tells us that there was once an evil nation named Amalek that attacked the Jewish people without cause after they crossed the sea and were enjoying their first steps of freedom. Amalek is defined by the Torah as pure evil. It is an evil entity that needs to be destroyed and wiped off the earth (Deuteronomy 25:17–19).

The rabbinic commentators debate whether this commandment is still in force today and whether the actual nation of Amalek still exists in the world.

In the years after the Holocaust, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the leading Modern Orthodox rabbi in America in the 20th century, taught that Amalek is still in existence. The reason for this is because there is another verse that states: “The Hand is on God’s throne. God shall be at war with Amalek for all generations” (Exodus 17:16).  “The Hand is on God’s throne” means that God is making an oath that there will be a war with Amalek for all generations until such time as evil is eradicated from the world.

Amalek represents pure evil and represents the Torah’s teaching that evil will exist in the world until such time as the Messiah comes to complete God’s throne by bringing total peace to the world.

So when we hear of such horrible tragedies like the Virginia Tech shootings, we remember that the Torah already told us that we can expect that there will always be pure evil in our midst.

The fact that we know in advance that there will be evil in the world reminds us that we have a responsibility to forcefully fight against such evil.  We need to be a force of light against the evil darkness of the world.  We need to always be working to counteract the evil by spreading acts of goodness in the world.  Even if we don’t see the evil in front of us, we know it is there waiting to rear its ugly head.  Because evil is waiting, we cannot wait.  We must always be seeking to do more and more good in a preemptive manner in order to counteract the evil of the world.

April 16, 2007, was a horrible day and remembering that day brings back so many terrible memories.  But there was also some good that shone forth that day.

When I think of April 16, 2007, I no longer remember the name of the horrible murderer who killed all those innocent people.  But I do remember the name Liviu Librescu.  He was the Holocaust survivor who became a professor at Virginia Tech and at the age of 76 managed to save the students in his Virginia Tech classroom on April 16, by throwing himself in front of the door to his classroom and taking the bullets in his own body while telling his students to run to safety.

There will always be evil in the world.  But as long we emulate the selflessness and courage of a person like Liviu Librescu, then we will have the strength and the inspiration to defeat the evil forces of the world. So when we are forced to confront once again the horrors of April 16, 2007, let us take solace in another memory from that day: the inspirational memory of Liviu Librescu.

Shmuel Herzfeld is rabbi at Ohev Sholom in Washington, DC.

Read more from local faith leaders at On Faith/Local

Related:Virginia Tech police officer, one other killed on campus

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