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If a murderer pursues you, strike him down first.
-- Talmud Sanhedrin, 72a
Aaron Zelman, may his memory be for a blessing, was so many things to so many people, many of whom sent JPFO letters and tributes when he departed this world one year ago. Visit the Aaron Zelman Tribute Page.
When someone has left this world, Jews observe the anniversary of the day of death as an annual "yahrzeit" -- Yiddish for "a year’s time". At this first yahrzeit of Aaron’s passing, I would like to share some thoughts with you.
Though I spoke with Aaron countless times and worked with him on several projects, we only met in person once -- for an extended weekend during which Aaron interviewed me and directed the filming of No Guns for Jews. But even from afar, Aaron taught me many things. He was a friend, a mentor, a teacher, a guide, and an advisor. In addition to working with Aaron professionally, I had the privilege of seeing Aaron interact with his family and witnessing the guidance and leadership he offered as a father -- the same qualities he brought to the battle for our rights.
Of the many passages of Torah we studied together, the one that most characterized Aaron’s approach to life is one you have heard from both him and me many times: "If a murderer pursues you, strike him down first." This commandment characterized Aaron not only because he was such a staunch defender of the right of self-defense. Yes, Aaron understood the Holiness of life and the gravity and seriousness of the possibility of facing a situation in which he would be forced to take a life in self defense. Yes, he was prepared to do so, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and physically. But more than that, Aaron integrated the principle behind this Talmudic dictum into his life.
What principle is that?
To be more literal in translation, the Talmud says: "He who is coming to kill you -- awake early in the morning and kill him." The Talmud is teaching that self defense does not begin when a killer has a knife at your throat. It does not begin when the armed killer has isolated his intended victim. Rather self defense begins at the time the murderer begins to pursue his intended victim. At that moment, the murderer may not yet be armed. Indeed, he may even still be asleep. But if you know for sure that when he awakes he will attack with lethal intent, then in G-d’s Law both his intended victim and any other righteous party are justified in using all necessary force, including deadly force, to strike down the intended murderer. If we wait, it may be too late.
What do I mean when I say that Aaron integrated this principle into his life?
Aaron understood that the fight for the right to keep and bear arms does not begin when shotguns are illegal and handguns are next. It does not begin when machine guns require a federal license. It does not begin with gun registrations. Rather, the fight for our right to arms begins the moment our elected leaders begin to contemplate any infringement on the Second Amendment. If we wait, it may be too late.
Aaron dedicated his life to fighting for our rights and in JPFO he produced some of the most innovative educational materials in the battle. We at JPFO continue to carry his torch. In discussion after discussion, we ask ourselves, what would Aaron have done? What would he have wanted? Sometimes the answer to that question is obvious and other times less so.
With regard to one project I know for sure what Aaron would have wanted. The last creative work Aaron produced was No Guns for Jews, and shortly before his death we discussed distributing the film to every rabbi in the country. As a tribute to Aaron, JPFO has continued this project over the past year, having now covered many Orthodox rabbis in New Jersey, New York, and Arizona.
Why these states, and why Orthodox rabbis? Geographically, we started with states where we are more familiar with the Jewish communities and have a physical presence. I live in New Jersey and have worked in New York for nearly two decades; our Executive Director lives in Arizona. As for the religious communities we chose, we started with the Orthodox rabbis because -- and we are aware this is a sweeping generalization -- Orthodox rabbis are less likely to be "knee-jerk liberals" on "gun control" issues.
We need your help to continue this project. Please make a donation to JPFO in memory of Aaron. Your $25 puts No Guns for Jews in the hands of one rabbi; $100 puts it in the hands of five. Also included is a personally signed letter from me to my rabbinic colleagues.
We need your help to complete Aaron’s last project. Please go to our website and make a donation in Aaron’s memory today.
Rabbi Dovid Bendory
Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership
Rabbi Bendory is an NRA Certified Firearms Instructor.
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