When tragedy strikes, we seek answers. Answers help us make sense of things. They provide reason, explanation, meaning. And more so, they allows us the false sense of security that if something happened in a particular place for a particular reason, it means I am safe and it could never happen to me.

Making things black and white, good or bad, might be easier for us to process. But rarely are things so clearcut. Rarely is something inherently one way or the other. More often than not, the issue is not the object or the action itself, but why it is being used, who is using it and what it is being used for.

When tragedy strikes, we seek answers

This Sunday is a day of mourning in Judaism. It is the 10th day of the month of Tevet, the day in the Jewish year 3336 (425 BCE) that the armies of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia laid siege to the walls of Jerusalem. Thirty months after this happened, on the 9th of Av, the Holy Temple was destroyed. But the process began on the 10th of Tevet, two and a half years earlier.

We all have walls in our lives. Some need to be there, others need to be strengthened, some need to be destroyed. The wall, in and of itself, is not the issue. The question to be looked at is what purpose the wall is serving. Walls can protect. Walls give privacy. Walls create borders. There are many reasons that walls are not only necessary, but healthy.

Then there are the walls that keep us out where we should be allowed in. The walls that block our heart from feeling or letting us to connect to others. There are walls we put up around ourselves not for protection, but to hide. Those walls need to come down. Those walls create only pain and distance.

Almost anything can be used either for good or bad. And in many cases, the timing and circumstances make all the difference. Eating challah on Shabbat is a mitzvah. Eating challah on Passover is absolutely forbidden. One can have the most kosher of meat and the most kosher of milk, but put the two together and the food must be discarded. Love and intimacy in a marriage is beautiful and holy, but love and intimacy that strays from the marriage is destructive. There are endless examples. But in all of these cases, to put blame on the challah or the meat or the love would be ludicrous. They are not the problem. The problem is how one chooses to use them. When one chooses to use them. In what ways that person chooses to use them.

That first move was the first step in the death and destruction that followed

The 10th of Tevet teaches us something else as well. Judaism recognizes not only the end result, but the process. We do not only mourn the actual destruction; we go to the source, we figure out how it began, when it began, and mourn that as well. When the walls were besieged, it might not have seemed that alarming. But that first move was the first step in the death and destruction that followed.

The Temple was not destroyed in one day. The 9th of Av took 30 months to happen. So, too, we have a responsibility when tragedy strikes to search for the root causes. Were there signs? Were there symptoms? Were there things that could have been addressed that might have possibly prevented that horrific end result?

While it would be so much easier to lay blame, what we must do is create solutions and change. We have three fast days dedicated to mourning the process and ultimate destruction of the Holy Temple (the 10th of Tevet, the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av). But the rest of the year we do not focus on the destruction, but on rebuilding.

Our country is now in mourning. We lost 26 precious lives in the Sandy Hook elementary school, as well as the life of the killer’s mother. Something must change. But that change won’t come from blame, but from deep searching. While we most definitely need to discuss who should own guns, where they should be, where they shouldn’t be and the entire debate, we cannot end there. We know what ultimately happened with those guns, but we need to see when those outer walls were first besieged. We need to know what signs and symptoms were there that should have been addressed.

And just like we cannot put all the blame on a weapon, we cannot put all the blame on a condition. The killer may have been mentally ill. But being mentally ill did not make him a killer. We need to take a hard look at the influences to which we expose our children. We must take responsibility for the violence that is embedded in our culture through music, media and gaming. And when we address mental health, we need to reevaluate what resources we have available to our children, and provide help and support when they are young. The help that can be given to a 10-year-old is vastly different than what one can do with a 20-year-old.

The killer may have been mentally ill. But being mentally ill did not make him a killer

We cannot ignore signs or symptoms of depression or anxiety out of fear that we will be labeled or looked down upon. There is a great need to get rid of the stigma attached to mental illness, but one of the ways of doing that is being open and willing to seek help when needed. The more we directly address these needs, and refuse to hide or be embarrassed of them, the quicker our children will recognize that it is okay if they need counseling or medication, or both. They need to know that angry or unhealthy thoughts can happen. What cannot happen is continuing to suppress, ignore or hide these feelings when they arise.

Furthermore, we need to view each other and ourselves not just as a person, but as an entire world. Judaism teaches us how each and every soul is precious and was brought into existence by our Creator for a specific mission and purpose. No one is here accidentally. And each and every person has something that only he or she can accomplish. When we view each other as invaluable, when we recognize that we have a reason for being here, it helps combat the feelings of being useless or having nothing to offer in life.

There is no one answer or reason for why such a tragedy happened. But we owe it to ourselves, our children, and those children whose lives were snuffed out at Sandy Hook to explore each and every possibility. We need to stop looking for something or someone to blame, and start looking at what we can change. Because only through change do we truly honor the victims, and help prevent a tragedy of this sort from ever happening again.