Tuesday, 24 April 2018


I live in Toronto, less than 2 miles away from where yesterday's horrific tragedy occurred. Toronto is generally a most tranquil city, noted for its many cultural faces. An event of this nature disrupts our reliances.

What is perhaps most unsettling is the nature of this lone attacker. He is not one who seems to represent a group. He has his own definition of right-and-wrong which led him to act in this most evil manner with the perception that he was justified. And all he needed to do was rent a van.

What leads a person to think so much of himself that he can decide to act in such a cruel manner, savagely killing, torturing and maiming innocent people, because he so decides that it is the thing to do? And this is not just happening in Toronto. When did we stop learning to question and examine ourselves? This is the very call of mussar and it is the obligation of us all.

Rabbi Ben Hecht


Anonymous said...

"What leads a person to think so much of himself that he can decide to act in such a cruel manner ... When did we stop learning to question and examine ourselves?"

These may be the right questions for our era, but I'm not sure they are a precise match for this situation.

Certain mental illnesses can create unique barriers to learning mussar, and a lot of work remains to be done to figure out reliable evidence-based methods of instilling deep empathy in people whose brains see other humans in bizarre ways. Sometimes, good common-sense parenting is not enough.

"described Mr. Minassian as someone with a significant social or mental disability who had a hard time speaking to people, difficulty under pressure, and constant physical tics where he shook his hands and tapped his head."

"In 2009, Sona Minassian was quoted in a story in the Richmond Hill Liberal lamenting that her son, who suffered from a form of autism called Asperger syndrome, was at risk of losing access to a special program called Helpmate that assisted the teen to “work though his cognitive barriers and prepare him for the workplace.”"



Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

Anonymous, thank you for your noteworthy response.

What I believe you are presenting is another, most important response to my overall issue. Mental illness must be a consideration within this process. In examining ourselves, in the communal sense, we must consider the needs of individuals in the process of how they relate to others which includes responding appropriately to those who cannot examine themselves. Pert of mussar is taking responsibility for what we must do as a community -- and you are expressing this need in response to this case. This is also what we should be doing.


Sharon Shapiro said...

I must ask that we be careful about pointing to mental illness in connection to violent behavior. And Aspergers Syndrome is not a mental illness. Tics do not indicate that one can be violent. We need to look at how people respond to people who seem "different". There are many many people not diagnosed as having mental illnesses who end up abusing their wives, children, and autistic people. Sociopaths are usually not diagnosed and they are the ones most capable of murder.

Rabbi Hecht, your point about community responsibility is very well taken.

Sharon Shapiro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sharon Shapiro said...

We need to look at today's culture where social media is used to promote ourselves and to bully others. A culture in which we react instead of thoughtfully respond. We tweet, text, and post, but we don't talk. What used to be backyard scuffles are now mass murders. We need to look at the culture in which we all live, including those of us with depression or Aspergers. Too many people are losing the ability to relate to and empathize with others and it has very little to do with diagnoses. All of us are susceptible, which is why many Rabbeim are leery of modern culture.

Sharon Shapiro-Lacks
Yad HaChazakah-The Jewish Disability Empowerment Center

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure our society is ready for self-analysis. Case in point:


Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

I think that what this case actually shows is in how much need we are for self-analysis.

Maybe what you mean is that our society is not ready for self-analysis because it doesn't really understand what it means. It is not a call for some generic compassion because we all have failings. It is a call to demand more of oneself because, as human beings, we can be better. If "Alex is our mirror" the demand of self-analysis should be that we are embarrassed. It is just that our society will not face self-critique.