Imus, Corzine, and Virginia Tech

Imus, Corzine, and Virginia Tech

Rabbi emeritus, Temple Avodat Shalom, River Edge, Reform

Within a short period, we in our northern New Jersey community experienced natural disaster through the winds and rain of the nor’easter of ‘007 and were also witnesses to both the massacre of innocent students and faculty at Virginia Tech and to the self-destructive acts of radio personality Don Imus and of New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine. The Torah portion for last week was Tazria Metzorah, Leviticus 1’ to 15, which focuses upon plagues. One way to view the series of events I have just described is to see them as plagues, and question why God has allowed these things to happen. An alternative response is for us to question the human responsibility for each of these tragic occurrences.

Don Imus lost his job and Jon Corzine came close to losing his life because of the sin of hubris. Imus thought he could say whatever he wanted on the public airwaves. He was the I-man, and thought that no one could censor or silence him. In the end it was the hubris of Imus that brought down the I-man. As Jews, our tradition teaches us that "we the People" takes precedence over the I of the individual. The preamble to the American Constitution begins with the same premise.

Ironically, Gov. Corzine’s act of hubris, which has left him disabled and left "we the people" of New Jersey once again without an elected governor, occurred when he was hurrying to meet Don Imus. I pray that when our governor recovers, may it be speedily, he will awake to the reality that he is not above the laws of the state he leads, nor is he exempt from the consequences that irresponsible actions in an automobile can bring upon oneself and others. "Speed kills" and "seat belts save lives" are not meaningless slogans.

The tragedy of Virgina Tech occurred on Yom ha-
Shoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. Liviu Librescu, 76, a Holocaust survivor who was an engineering science and mathematics lecturer at Virginia Tech for ‘0 years, was a hero that day because he took action. By holding back the door and directing his students to jump out the window, he saved their lives and sacrificed his own. Where were the police and university officials during the two hours between the initial murder in a dorm and the large-scale slaughter in the classroom building? Judaism teaches us that passivity in the face of evil is a sin. Liviu Librescu, Holocaust survivor and Romanian "refusnik" stood up one last time and said no to passivity and yes to the command to choose life.

When will we as a society find the courage to pass laws that will make it tougher to purchase automatic handguns than it is to get a driver’s license? Liviu Librescu’s action taught us once again that there are no innocent bystanders; we cannot stand on the sidelines of life. While only the perpetrators of hate speech or hateful actions are guilty, all of us are responsible. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught us, it is our responsibility to both pray as if everything depends upon God and act as if everything depends upon us.

May the memory of all the victims of terror, including the new names added to the list of martyrs at Virginia Tech, stand as a blessing and a challenge; may each of us trade hubris for humility and greed for gratitude; may all of us learn the consequences of choosing to see ourselves as an I-man or I-woman and choose instead to see ourselves as we the people who are all children of the one God. Then our countdown to Shavuot on May ” will truly be a journey from liberation to freedom.

Rabbi Neal Borovitz is religious leader of Temple Sholom in River Edge.