Monday, April 23, 2007

"CHOICE"- Reflections on the VTech massacre

It’s only been a week now since I met him.

You met him too then, under those most tragic circumstances. Before it happened, not many had heard of him; afterwards, who hadn’t?

He was a foreigner, whose name most people probably struggled to pronounce. His early life, in his home country, had been difficult. Even after he moved to the liberal United States, he part of an ethic minority.

His quiet, reflective character belied the difficulties that he had experienced. At a young age, he had already tasted discrimination; even suffered personally because of it. Over time he had experienced persecution and even physical abuse.

I guess it wouldn’t have been surprising for someone who had been through his life-experiences to be bitter, or even angry at the world. If he had dark thoughts, his therapist would likely have called them “natural”, considering his circumstances.

Considering the relevance of that Monday in his life, the negative images must have been magnified. Turbulent emotions likely cascaded through his mind as he walked through the hallways of Virginia Tech campus on that cold morning. It was the perfect day for his emotions to ignite.

It happened shortly after 9:00 a.m. In one notorious moment, he was blasted from near-obscurity to the world’s front pages.

His face will remain before our eyes, his actions etched in our conscience.

In an instant he became a hero; the man who placed his body between a senseless gunman and a classroom full of students.

Having endured anti-Semitic Romania, labour camps and Communist discrimination, Liviu Librescu had every excuse to be angry at the world. As a child, he saw his father torn away by the Nazis, and as an adult, the Communists robbed him of his career. If anyone should have felt vengeful, he should have. He chose not to be.

Monday was Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), a day that represented every seminal trauma of his life. It became the day that crystallized his response to that horror.

Liviu Librescu, following the legacy of tens of thousands before him, chose how to respond to life’s circumstances. Like his predecessors who emerged from the ravages of Crusade, the Auto Da Fé of Spain or the Gas Chambers, Librescu understood that a Jew is not shaped by life, but shapes life.

Years past retirement age, he remained committed to teaching, to sharing and adding value to the lives of others.

Our society is unnecessarily tolerant of people’s willingness to blame circumstances for their deviant behaviour.

Unlike his killer’s “You made me do this”, Librescu refused to surrender to “circumstances”. He understood the greatest gift of being human- choice.

He chose to live.

He chose to rise from the ashes to success and scientific renown.

He chose to dedicate himself to enhance life.

He chose to sacrifice his life to preserve the lives of others.

Librescu and his murderer stood separated by four centimeters of door; and by attitudes that are light-years apart.

I stand proud in the knowledge that I belong to the People of Liviu Librescu.

May his memory be a blessing- and an eternal inspiration to us all.

(This article was inspired by Rabbi Eitan Ash of Chabad House Shul, Savoy)


Anonymous said...

Beautiful article rabbi! An inspiring contrast of two such (similar) different individuals! Makes one start thinking...

Keep up the good work!

An old talmid and fan of yours
Tel Aviv, Israel

Rabbi S said...

Thank you.

But you can't sign off with such an intriguing description- and still remain anonymous. My curiosity is aroused...

Bas~Melech said...

What a great comparison. At first I thought you were referring to the killer... the description could have fit either one, yet one was a killer while the other hy"d gave his own life to save others.
This should be required reading for those who would blame Seung-Hui's experiences for his actions.

(It is clear, though, that mental illness was the strongest factor that caused Cho to kill. I do not believe he made the choice in full consciousness -- he was in psychotic break, removed from reality at the time, though he had been planning something for a while before. My point is simply that one cannot push the blame on society's coldness or whatnot)

Anonymous said...

Rabbi S.

A very appropiate and beautifully written article.

I will IYH be looking at your blog more often.

Kol Tov