God is Counting on Us to Make Their Memories a Blessing

What is the proper religious response to acts of barbarism like the massacre we saw perpetrated against members of the LGBT community in Orlando on Sunday?

Although I am not sure what it is, I know there must be one.

As I have been reading reactions to the massacre insistently, I keep tripping over the phrase "may their memories be a blessing."

What does "may" mean? How does "may" happen? To me, it suggests some type of abstract notion or process, but what can we do - what can you do - to ensure this outcome?

Just as it is not enough to pray to be fast, to be healthy, or to be wise, neither can we merely pray for the lives of those massacred to be a blessing. If we aspire to speed, we must train. If we aspire to wellness, we must take care of ourselves. If we aspire to intelligence, we must study. And, if we aspire that the memory of those massacred in Orlando to be blessings, we must make it so.

We must wrap our arms and our hearts around them in order to bring meaning to their deaths. We must assure that members of the LGBT community are free to come together, and to dance. We must assure that we recognize the danger of ISIS, and the evil it represents. We must not shut the gates of our hearts or our country to those seeking freedom and safety, no matter their faith. We must not rest in our efforts to get assault weapons off the streets.

Who must do this work? Each of us and all of us.

Too often those who profess religious faith leap to justify tragedies as divine judgment. For example, after Hurricane Katrina and the Bataclan slaughter in Paris, so called faith leaders explained what the victims must have done to deserve to die. Such pronouncements offend all genuine religious sensibilities. Surely our lethargy and acceptance of the epidemic of gun violence and hate saddens the Holy One. God is not accountable to us for the senseless violence we collectively tolerate.

In tractate Berachot of the Babylonian Talmud, God tells Moses, "Lech rayd - Go down from the mountain" because the people have lost their way, going so far as to threaten their destruction. Only then - instead of relief that he will be spared - does Moses realize "Davar zeh talui bi - This thing depends on me." He immediately stands up, challenging God to withhold the threatened punishment. Finally, Moses hears God's threat as a call to action, understanding that something hangs in the balance and that one person stepping forward can shape the course of the future. These four words change his world: "Davar zeh talui bi - This thing depends on me."

Indeed, Moses models for us what it means to take responsibility for our lives and the lives of others. Can we, too, recognize the threat of even greater destruction? Can we, too, recognize what hangs in the balance? Can we, too, accept our responsibility and act on it?

The memories of the dead in Orlando, and in too many other places, will be a blessing when, and only when, we make it so. Davar zeh talui bi.