DAY 1391: Reflection as a Police Chaplain – The Power of God

April 21, 2016
By bethmordecai
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DAY 1391: Reflection as a Police Chaplain – The Power of God

Dear Hevreh,

I never held a pistol before, let alone carried one in a gun holster snug tightly against my hip. Yet there I was, a rabbi and a police chaplain, armed in a training simulator at the Middlesex County Police training center to get a taste of what police officers experience on a daily basis. The wall length screen in front of me projected scenarios that police face, from traffic stops of armed bikers and arrest warrant fugitives to domestic violence calls. It was sobering, surreal even, to encounter these individuals on the screen who, through the wonders of technology, seemed so real. As our Captain said, even though you know it’s not real your heart rate will increase as if it was real. And in those moments, when I was enveloped by the dangerous world projected in front of me, I was very much aware of my holstered pistol and how, through its use (or non-use) I could play God.

We say in our high holiday prayers that God determines “who shall live and who shall die” as a statement to encourage a sense of humility. God, as the Creator of all, should be the only one to determine who shall live and who shall die. Thus, the plagues, which we will read about tomorrow night during Seder, teach us that since God can manipulate reality to potentially cause death and destruction, we should not. The burden of “playing God” is too great for any human being; only God can handle it.

Yet, while this teaching is important to encourage a sense of humility and an appreciation for the sacredness of life, many human beings have not learned that lesson, and as such we intentionally place other human beings in the line of fire to confront and control those who would harm us by arming our protectors with the legal means to determine “who shall life and who shall die.”

One of the most powerful scenarios I encountered in my training simulation was a response to a domestic violence call in which the man/boyfriend/husband brandished a knife in the direction of the woman/girlfriend/wife. I drew my gun from the holster and faced him, barking orders to get him to drop the knife. I knew I was in my legal rights as a police officer to shoot once he displayed a weapon in an aggressive manner, but I didn’t want to choose that he should die. I wanted to choose that he should live and (thank God) he dropped the knife. Unfortunately another scenario wasn’t so peaceful and, though it was only a simulation, that scenario has continued to haunt me.

These are the situations in which we place our police officers, our military personnel, and all of our armed forces that are tasked with protecting those who have the humility to appreciate the sacredness of life from those who do not. We must always remember that though we intentionally place human beings in these scenarios, human beings are not intended to play this role of God. When mistakes are made they have life and death consequences. It is an awesome responsibility, probably too much to have, and so we must take great care to care for those who must attach the power of God to their hips in order to protect the rest of us.

Kol Tuv,

Rabbi Ari Saks

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