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God squad: Let's look out for each other

Q. My heart goes out to Leiby Kletzky and his family. According to a newspaper article, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn found the young boy's killer quickly through the Shomrim patrol, a local volunteer group whose name means "guardians" in Hebrew. Wouldn't it be a great memorial to this boy to create a program that would teach others how to form and maintain Shomrim patrols?

I am amazed that the search party grew to as many as 5,000. The methods the Shomrim patrol used to enlist the help of so many volunteers should be of great interest to everyone interested in helping others.

-- J., via email

A. My heart is also broken from the brutal murder of that little boy. I think of his death along with death of Caylee Anthony and all the other hundreds of children whose sad fate does not galvanize the interest of the media. I think about them all the time because I am a grandfather and because I believe that although any violence committed against any innocent human being is abhorrent, the violence done to children is the most spiritually corrosive form of violence in our world.

The sufferings of children at the hands of pedophiles makes me doubt our biblical belief that we are made in the image of God and reconsider the pessimism of the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who believed that "each man is the wolf of his neighbor."

Whether we are essentially benevolent or essentially predatory is one of the great questions about human nature we must each resolve in our own views of humanity. Those who kill children come close to breaking my belief in the basic goodness of human nature, but in the end our nameless acts of kindness keep me hopeful and tied to God's benevolent creation and abiding love for us all.

I do agree that neighborhood watch associations and Shomrim patrols are a good and useful thing on many levels. They provide volunteers in those critical first few hours after a child goes missing. They act as a deterrent to pedophiles stalking the neighborhood. Most of all, they help create a cohesive moral community out of a bunch of isolated individuals.

When the murderer Cain answers God's question (Genesis 4:9) about the whereabouts of his murdered brother Abel, "Am I my brother's keeper?" God does not answer him, perhaps out of sorrow and anger -- but we can answer that question with a proud, "Yes, we are!" when we keep our eyes and hearts open to the safety of all our brothers and sisters living as we sadly do, like sheep among wolves.

Q. My father always stressed education when I was growing up, saying, "Educated people will look up to you, even if you are a pauper." So I'm an education freak, having attained two M.S. degrees, and I try to spread what I know by teaching at the local community college, volunteer organizations and wherever I'm asked to. I really believe that education will cure some of the ills we have in this world. My question: Does God agree? Is there anything written in the Scriptures urging that people strive to learn?-- H., via email

A. I just checked, and there is nothing in the Bible about getting two master's degrees, but I do commend you on fulfilling your parents' values. I do think you are right that the value of education has diminished in our culture. This may be because our children are exposed to so many wealthy celebrities in the media who are, let us say, blissfully unencumbered by formal education. Still, it remains true that education is the surest path to both knowledge and success. It does not, however, seem always to provide the path to moral virtue, which I still believe is the result of parental training and a morally sensitive faith.

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