The last two weeks have taken our collective American breath away. No, I’m not referring to the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial, sensational and juicy as that is. I’m referring to Uvalde, Texas. I have forced myself to watch all the coverage of the 19 precious fourth graders, and I’ve let the tears come. Just like thoughts and prayers, my grief for people I don’t know often seems all I can do.
A friend shared a tweet by Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman, who is from Pittsburgh and felt the painful reality after the 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue. In his tweet, Rabbi Goodman spoke of bracha levatla which was an unfamiliar concept to me. My Jewish friends enlightened me.
A bracha is a blessing and levatla indicates “in vain.” Therefore, a bracha levatla is a missed opportunity—a blessing or prayer for something with no action to follow it up. Rabbi Goodman refers to it as a sinful act. For me, who had my own brush with gun violence many years ago as the result of an unstable individual who got hold of a gun, it seems our country is committing bracha levatla time and time again. Our thoughts, our ideas are never followed up by action. Our prayers are mere whispers in a wind tunnel.
As the old adage goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
I’ve been grappling with the concept of bracha levatla over the last week. How many times have I prayed or wished for something with no follow up on my part?
How many times have I thought of someone lonely or hurting—but didn’t pick up the phone? How many times have I passed by the homeless—but turned my head? How many times have I heard of yet another shooting, and changed the TV channel?
How many times did I take the path of least resistance?
I was so certain that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary would have changed hearts and laws. But 10 years have passed, and now more children are dead—and the carnage continues. My youngest child does not remember a time when active shooter drills were not routine.
For me, it’s easy to give myself a pass—to excuse myself from action because I’m not an elected official. But I vote for them. I can raise my voice. I can learn more about Ukraine and Uvalde than I know about the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial. In that respect, I am innocent: I know—and care—nothing about that trial. Yet I wonder how many people in this country know minute sordid details about that relationship, but can’t name even three of the murdered Uvalde children. How many of us offer up “thoughts and prayers” while we binge on media junk food. Bracha levatla.
It’s not about political party. A dead child stops your heart despite your affiliation. Or it should. And it’s not about abolishing the Second Amendment or about taking away law-abiding citizens’ guns. It’s about practical reforms, like making sure am 18-year old can neither rent a car NOR buy an AR-15. It’s about taking common-sense steps to make sure that change happens, that we take steps forward. It’s about recognizing that the next massacre could be in our church, our school, our supermarket. It’s about realizing that the grief, the blood, the problem is on all of us.
In the Christian faith, today is Pentecost: the day when “tongues of fire” appeared and “there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind (Acts 2: 2). We need a gust of wind today, to change our hearts, to mobilize us, to force us to not look away. To not sit silently by.
We are broken-hearted, but more importantly, we are broken.