Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger
Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger

Thoughts in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy

Now that we are beginning to absorb the magnitude of the pain, destruction and displacement inflicted on so many of our communities, we are also aspiring to exercise the age old teaching of "nosei be'ol chaveiro" - sharing the burden of the challenges and tribulations of others. The long and circuitous road ahead of us that must be traveled to make families whole again seems unending, and the hardships that will be met seem intolerable. Yet the response of our people has been and will continue to be remarkable, and we pray that Hashem will reward these efforts with success that is greater than we dare to imagine.

Indeed it has been pointed out, most famously in recent times by the Rov z"tl, that the challenge to become more of a tzelem elokim, more of a giver, more of a participant in the trouble of others, and more of a connected community, are the primary, and sometimes only, take away messages from an episode that otherwise seems to be non-redemptive. It is often felt that to say more is arrogant and unfeeling.

That is why the devastating winds and punishing rains of last week brought to mind a braiso (Chagiga 12b), "Rabbi Yossi says: Woe to those who see but do not realize what they are seeing, who stand but do not realize upon what they are standing. The Earth stands on pillars as it says 'Who shakes the Earth from its place and makes the pillars tremble'...the pillars stand upon the waters...the waters stand upon the mountains...the mountain stands upon the winds...the wind stands upon the storm...the storm is suspended from the arm of the Holy One."

I felt that Rabbi Yossi speaks to many of us who have watched, similar to Eliezer of this week's parsha, macharish leda'as - in awe-filled silence and stupor; only in our case, silenced by seeming meaninglessness. At first I thought Rabbi Yossi recognized us, pitied us and perhaps censured us for not finding meaning and positive direction in the tragic and terrifying storms of our people's life, much as Rambam (Hilchos Taaniyos 1:3) condemns one who is aware of suffering and remains unmoved to introspect and pray as a result.

Upon further thought, I understood that Rabbi Yossi is framing our experience and that of all thinking people. We are so often forced to see and yet held so far from understanding. To be sure, the aforementioned Rambam does not instruct us to probe and evaluate a tragedy trying to find its cause. Rather each of us individually probes and evaluates ourselves, and each community looks inward and, with renewed humility and awe, uncovers values on the decline and unseemly behaviors that require great thought and investment.

A more careful reading of Rabbi Yossi may suggest that the same frail, speechless onlookers dare not forget that they remain standing, extraordinarily erect and incredibly strong. In fact Rabbi Yossi is far more concerned with describing the depth of how we stand rather than the depth of how we suffer.

It is interesting that the gemara concludes that one of the pillars on which we stand are the twelve tribes of our people. Perhaps by studying the community standing as it pools all of its resources together, standing with hands-on help, standing in profound empathy, standing tall and taking responsibility for one another, and finally standing humbled in front of the A-mighty, we will find positive direction and even optimistic moments.

Let us pray that as we heard the furious winds last week we will all soon hear the song that Perek Shira attributes to the powerful winds as it forcefully carries Jews from every corner of the world back to our home.

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