The continuation of my article for the Jewish Press on the power of prayer was ready to go but then tragedy hit. A tragedy of a magnitude that none of us could have envisioned. Not even in our wildest imagination. New York the capital of the world -the invincible citadel is shaken to its core and before our very eyes buildings tumble - our highways are flooded - our bridges and tunnels are closed down - filthy disease carrying sewage enter our homes - and they sink in water - our cars float away - people lose their homes - and worse their very lives. We who prided ourselves with the most advanced state of the art technology stood humbled - our lights dimmed - we were left in darkness - our electricity betrayed us. We watched helplessly as our beautiful neighborhoods turn into war zones. What do we do? How are we to understand this?
Those of you who have read my books or heard me speak can testify that whenever suffering befalls us I search our holy books to find illumination and guidance. I turn to my most loyal friend, my friend who has always been at my side who has given me comfort and strength, my friend who never betrayed me, my sefer Tehillim, my Book of Psalms. "Hashem gave us the Torah and we gave Him the Book of Psalms" - the Psalms which were written by King David - the man who experienced every pain - every suffering that can befall mankind - each word that David wrote was drenched with his tears and his words speak for all eternity - for all mankind.
The devastation occurred on Monday, October 29th - the 13th day of the month of Cheshvan. The Psalm designated for the 13th day of the month is Psalm 69. I opened to it and the words jumped out "Save us oh G-d for the waters have reached onto my soul". And there is more. This Psalm does not leave us in the cold - it also provides our remedy - our answer. "Va-ani, s'filosi l'cho Hashem'' - but as for me, my prayer is to You Hashem". Yes we must turn in heartfelt prayer to our Heavenly Father and beseech His Mercy - His Salvation.
I look at the "Parasha" and once again the opening passage speaks - our father Abraham whose kind hospitality had no bounds - opens his home to strangers. That which our forefathers experienced - that which shaped their lives has become part of our DNA - lives forever in our yiddisha neshamas. I think of all the many people who were left homeless and then I think of those who lost power and were left in cold darkness. I know of a woman standing in her home - waist deep in water with fish swimming all around her while she was desperately searching for photographs of her father and mother who are no longer here. Who can comprehend the pain - the suffering? And then let us think of all the wonderful people who opened their homes like our father Abraham. I know for I am one of those who had to evacuate and I too have benefited from that hospitality and as I am writing this column I continue to benefit from that chessed. And there is more, much more.
Maimonides - Rambam taught that when suffering is visited upon us we are commanded to cry out and awaken our people with the sound of the "shofar". He taught that everyone must be alerted. Everyone must examine his or her life and ask, what is my life all about? How would I rate if I were given a "neshama check" up? What does my Judaism, my Torah, really mean to me? Maimonides wrote that if we regard the tragedies that befall us as simply "the way of the world - natural happenings" we would be guilty of "achzarius - cruelty". At first glance it is difficult to understand why Maimonides would chose the term "cruelty" to describe those who claim to be rational 21st century citizens and see trials and tribulations "as the way of the world". They may be unthinking, apathetic, and foolish, blind obtuse or just cynical agnostics but to accuse them of cruelty is rather farfetched.
The answer is simple - if we regard our pain and suffering as "mere coincidence" and feel no motivation to examine our lives, abandon our old ways and change - then indeed, such an attitude is "cruel" for it invites additional misfortunate upon ourselves and others. It would be the height of cruelty to dismiss that which we just experienced and all that preceded it for several years now as mere happenstance. "Daas Torah" - our great Torah luminaries of past generations including the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, and others told us that we are entering the final stages of history - a period of time called "Ikvsa Di Meshiach - Footsteps of the Messiach". So I ask you, can we remain silent? Would doing so not be an act of "cruelty"?
Ours is a generation that has been challenged again and again. We have had so many wakeup calls - some terrifying - and some more subtle but no matter what we have remained indifferent to them all. I will not go back to the time of the Holocaust although by every right I should for if that didn't shake us up what would? Sadly, nowaday's very few people can even identify with that monstrous period. It has long been buried in history.
So let us try to commence with 9/11 - but I'm afraid even that story has become tired. The flames of the twin towers are no longer vivid in our minds and the fellowship - the kindness - that ensued in its wake is all but gone. So let us just focus on more recent events.
During the summer of 2002 a terrible tragedy occurred in a bungalow colony in the Catskill Mountains. A mother had just bathed her infant baby and put her in her carriage for a nap. Suddenly out of nowhere a wild bear appeared, snatched the baby and made off with her. The baby was never again seen. This shocking story did appear in newspapers and was reported in the media but seldom did I meet people who were actually aware of it. Nor did I encounter too many of those who were aware of the Talmudic teaching that the generation that will witness a wild beast snatching a baby from its cradle should sound the shofar to awaken the nation. But alas the shofar was not sounded and we were not awakened. With the years our slumber has become deeper. There were no alarm clocks capable of awakening us - I should probably qualify this - there is one ring that does make us jump and that's the ring of financial crisis. But no sooner does that alarm stop ringing then we return to our old ways and continue to sleep.
During the past few years the number of catastrophes has multiplied to such an extent that we have all but become immune to them. Natural disasters -tsunamis, hurricanes, volcanoes, earth quakes, nuclear spill outs, uncontrollable fires, unknown diseases, barbaric savage acts of terror have become all too common and we no longer notice them. Could this be a wakeup call warning us? Somehow it never even occurred to us to ask that question.
Time and time again I have written, spoken and cited the teaching of our Sages - "K'ymei Tzescho....the manner in which you departed from Egypt so shall it be at the end of days". How did we depart from Egypt? What was that which broke the chains of bondage and opened the iron gates? Every child knows the answer and so do we: the 10 plagues. Have we witnessed the 10 plagues in our generation? Of course not you'll protest. But then think again, and think again..!!!!! What was the first plague in Egypt? Blood....the Nile River that the Egyptians worshiped - the Nile River where Jewish children's lives were snuffed out - became blood. Again you might ask; what on earth does that have to do with us? "Think". The Nile was the god of Egypt. Once again you might protest - we are not pagans - we worship the real G-d. But, do we really? Has it ever occurred to any of us that we are the generation that worships with passion and fervor the god of money? And in worshiping it we are prepared to sacrifice everything - even our families - our children. The plagues of Egypt continued to plague us and they came in many shapes and forms. Pestilence....bed bugs in New York. Do you remember that? Yes bed bugs in the finest places - elegant hotels - exclusive shops and mind you it wasn't only in New York. The bed bugs crawled everywhere. And then there were the dead birds falling from the sky by the hundreds of thousands -the dead fish and sardines washing up on the shore by the hundreds of thousands? One of my students asked me - "how about the wild beast that invaded the streets of ancient Egypt we haven't seen that". Really, I said, "you don't remember Ohio when one morning people looked out of their windows to see if it was sunny or raining and low and behold they saw lions- tigers - wolfs - and bears. Can that be? Were they hallucinating? Did they lose it? But as always, for this too there was a rational explanation. Some animals had escaped from their cages. There was nothing to worry about we assured ourselves - it's one of those crazy things that can happen.. And then there was the earthquake in New York City. To be sure it was an unusual phenomenon. I recall people's reaction - laughing..where were you when it happened - did you feel it? And so the earthquake became just another "fun" experience.
And now SANDY arrived in all her fury - mocking us - mocking our technology - mocking our invincibility - mocking our arrogance. This time we are silenced - this time we stand humbly - we tremble and we cry. How did this happen? How could this be? Things like this can only occur in primitive places - places that are far away from civilization - away from the hubs of the United States but it happened and we cannot escape it - this time we couldn't find an explanation because this time it was our house. This time it was our community. This time it was we who were drowning. This time was different. This time we cannot escape it. or will we stubbornly pursue our old ways and remain deaf, dumb and blind? It's all in our hands. Hashem is calling.
I was listening to the news. The anchor was interviewing one of the most prominent meteorologists and asked, "Is SANDY different from all other natural catastrophes? Is there any parallel to her? "No, this is totally different", he responded. "This calamity had many shades and shapes and they fell upon us at the very same time as one - floods, fires, snow, winds, and rain - all converged upon us. Yes, this time it was different. But the question we must ask - will we be different? Will we get it? Or, will we continue with our sick obsessions, worshiping the "god of Money" and succumb to the enticements of our degenerate society?
Do you remember the story of Elijah the prophet and Jezebel -that satanic evil queen who seduced our people into worshiping pagan gods? Elijah rose like a lion and went to battle to save our people and bring them back to Hashem. And G-d responded and sent a great miracle for all to see and hear. The people actually witnessed the Hand of The Almighty and proclaimed in unison - "Hashem Hu Ho Elokim - G-d He is G-d"! Elijah rejoiced. The people understood. But Jezebel gleefully said, "Wait until tomorrow"! And tragically she was correct. Tomorrow came and it was all forgotten. And the question we must now ask ourselves is -will we forget - will we go back to business as usual? Or - will we remember Tehillim - Psalm 69; "the waters have risen to our souls" and now from our souls our prayers must reach to the Heavens Above.
"V'ani, s'filosi l'cho Hashem" - but as for me, my prayer is for You Hashem...
With Brochos - Blessing from the depths of my soul