A gunman opened fire in the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. this morning, not far from the White House and Capitol Hill. Reports say at least two police officers were shot, and three victims were in critical condition. The gunman, identified as Aaron Alexis, 34, of Fort Worth, TX, was killed by police at the scene. Officials say one or two suspects may still be at large.
In April, after the Boston Marathon bombings, Shai Held wrote movingly about the heroic nature of first responders, those who rush in to start helping the wounded before danger has subsided. They are, he argued, not just heroes, but Jewish heroes:
There is something about seeing first responders going about their work that restores our hope in humanity. Just as importantly, there is something about seeing them that can teach us a lesson in theology.
In Jewish theology, the highest human ideal is to “walk in God’s ways.” The Book of Deuteronomy mentions this lofty mandate five times, but curiously, it never spells out what it means. Modern Bible scholars tend to think that “walking in God’s ways” is just another way of talking about obeying God’s commandments, but the Talmudic Sages understood it differently. Their interpretation is something I suspect many first responders understand in an intuitive, almost visceral way—which is why, from a Jewish perspective, they are theological heroes.
Days like these remind us of the importance of these brave individuals, who put themselves in harm’s way to help others. “Without calling attention to themselves or congratulating themselves,” Held wrote, “they run towards human suffering instead of running away from it. To walk in God’s ways is to walk in their ways, too—towards people in pain and not away from them.”
We’ll update you as we learn more about the developing situation.