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A Matter of Responsibility

A Matter of Responsibility

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The debate never goes away. Perhaps, cynically said, it only fades to the back burner between mass shootings, only to roil the public once again when the headlines shout out the latest rampage. Like Virginia Tech.

Liberals will predictably argue that tougher gun control laws are desperately needed now more than ever. They have a very valid point; perhaps a tougher gun law might have given the crazed campus gunman enough pause to seek help for his issues. Conservatives will predictably sing the old refrain, "If guns are outlawed, the only people who will have guns will be outlaws." They also have a very valid point; one properly trained weapon-wielding student might have killed in defense of over thirty lives now snuffed out.

But the issue is not whether liberals or conservatives are right. It's an issue of whether our inner liberal or conservative is right.

In the Kabbalah that informs Chasidic philosophy and contemporary psychology, the inner and outer worlds—the individual psyche and society at large—deconstruct neatly into two parallel columns: Mind vs. heart. Thoughts vs. emotions. Repression vs. expression. Doing what is good vs. feeling good. Practicalism vs. idealism. Conservatism vs. liberalism.

Kabbalah calls this mechanism gevurah vs. chessed.

Individually, gevurah is mental willpower restricting the heart's impulses: A designated driver turning down drinks, a parent rejecting a child's request for another candy, a commuter resisting the urge to sleep in. Societally, gevurah is law and order: A stop sign controlling traffic, a judge grimly handing down a maximum sentence to a likeable criminal… or an armed citizen making the grim decision to take out a wild shooter.

Individually, chessed is emotions flowing freely forth: A long cell-phone chat with a friend, a host entertaining guests, unrestrained indulgence in physical and material pleasures. Societally, chessed is an idealistic volunteer striving for an impossibly huge goal, revelers soaking up a street party's stimuli… or an anguished heart using violence to vent an overdose of rage.

The functioning system—whether individual or societal—depends on a healthy balance of gevurah and chessed. In these parallel inner and outer worlds, the heart is neither denied by the mind (too much gevurah), nor given free rein by the mind (too much chessed).

Rather, feelings are expressed appropriately, and thoughts restrain feelings appropriately. The heart is harnessed by the mind. The free-flowing chessed river is channeled by the gevurah dam. The demands of the feelings are dominated by the rational logic of the mind, the primal cravings for selfish gratification are curbed by the constraints of societal law and order, the inner liberal is in balance with the inner conservative.

To put it Kabbalistic, Cho Seung-Hei's gevurah/chessed imbalance made him go ballistic.

Could a tough law have kept a weapon out of his hands? Very possibly. But conversely, considering the overwhelming energy of his powder keg of rage, Cho Seung-Hei might have opted for knives or bombs had guns been inaccessible. And does a violent, gun-permissive society trigger violence? Very possibly. Innumerable Torah sources discuss the potentially harmful influences of negative people, places… and things, including weapons of all sorts. But conversely, plenty of pleasant people are armed to the teeth, and wouldn't hurt a fly—their mental gevurah keeps their primal chessed urges in check.

Now, does this mean Cho Seung-Hei was not responsible for the Virginia Tech massacre? No.

The Torah—the morality manual for all mankind, not just Jews—makes it clear, by way of Kabbalah, that we're each responsible for balancing our spiritual and psychological systems. "Thou shalt not kill" does not come with the disclaimer, "except if you have psychiatric problems."

But with a psychological system as pain-strained and imbalanced as his was, judging by reports of his recent and not-so-recent history, Cho Seung-Hei had a responsibility to choose help. Instead, he chose evil.

Mendy Hecht lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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Jonathan Temple Colorado Springs, CO March 18, 2011

Please don't label people I think one of the most horrible things that is done in this society is the political manipulation that goes on where instead of honest dialogue, people get labeled.
When I see "liberals", "conservatives", etc, I will automatically turn away from reading, because it is inaccurate and horribly prejudicial. Do you like it to see "Jews think ...", etc. We are individual people and to use labels to group people together, as if they are brainless and have one view, is to gossip and to spread lies about others. Reply

Aaron San Francisco, CA August 2, 2007

The article’s explanation of Kabbalah along with gevurah & chessed was very interesting.

People must take responsibility for the quality of their own lives & be responsible citizens. Was mad Cho beyond choosing? Can Cho be used to demonstrate?

Is the translation “Thou shalt not kill” or “Thou shalt not murder”? The former seems to imply that one should not even take the life of a crazed murderer in the act to protect others.

We are a nation of 300,000,000 people & there are 100,000,000 firearm owners. Banning firearms in Chicago & Washington DC led to murder increases of over 30%! Guns stop criminals from robbing, raping & murdering people. Beyond that, consider the risk of trusting government never to turn on segments of its own population.

Reasonable gun-control laws, not dictated by hysterical anti-gun zealots, will help somewhat in reducing local crime. The mass banning of firearms will eventually lead to repeating the tragic history of the last century in some form. Reply