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Lessons from Sandy Hook: The Unknown in Our Midst

As we move forward in trying to understand what seems to be inexplicable, we are reminded that human beings are paradoxical creatures.

As the facts of last week's tragic story of the murder of 20 children and 6 adults continue to unfold, the national debate addresses the “cause” behind this horrific tragedy. Many might ask, "Is there an Adam Lanza living in our very midst?" In other words, is there someone so profoundly disturbed and angry that he would resort to a seemingly inexplicable act of violence? Events like this don’t just show up in a vacuum. So then what can we do to prevent such a tragedy?

We now know that Adam Lanza was considered a genius student. Adam's brother told law enforcement agents that Adam was believed to suffer from a personality disorder and was apparently diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Surely, large numbers of wonderful people are diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, yet these people threaten absolutely no one. High IQ young people with "issues" do not act out their anger any more then others and certainly not with the mass homicide of innocent young children. It is difficult to form an accurate picture of Adam, a picture that might help us recognize someone else is in need before the situation becomes irrevocable.

As we move forward in trying to understand what seems to be inexplicable, we are reminded that human beings are paradoxical creatures. From the entire spectrum of living creatures, we are the only ones that have the potential to bring about the kind of progress that comes from a social order where values are paramount. And, yet, even as we acknowledge a consensus of ordered liberty, some among us are unable to distinguish freedom from license. Sadly, there are some that take license with antisocial behavior and bring about havoc and pain to our fellow brethren.

When the Chassidic masters describe the human species, their paradigm supposes much of the sophisticated "wiring” within the human being can also be interpreted as animalistic. Animals love each other as we do. They experience jealousy and rage as we do. Some of the critical differences are in our ability to ponder and reflect, to choose and then act. An animal relies purely on instinct and can only do so much harm, usually calculable. But as we have witnessed, when a human being becomes a danger, there is no telling how far it can go.

To me, this terrible tragedy is a reminder of how dangerous human beings can be. Often, when someone who could (G-d forbid) be the next Adam is in our midst, it is not uncommon for neighbors and acquaintances to shrug their shoulders and move on. After all, they ("we") all have challenges. Who has time to deal with someone else’s?

There is a parable that is told in one of the ancient Jewish teachings that comes to mind. A group of people travelled together in a boat. One of them began to drill a hole beneath him. His companions cried out to him, "Why are you doing this?" Replied the man, "What concern is it of yours? Am I not drilling under my own place?" Said they to him, "But you will flood the entire boat for us all!"

Perhaps it is time to reach out to our neighbors and seek newer, wiser and better ways to assist those who are not mainstream and sometimes unable to cope with the norms of society.

I join the millions of others who are praying for the well being of all those who are suffering, our hearts are with theirs.

Shabbat shalom!

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