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New York - OpEd: Hearing The Hurricane

Published on: November 21, 2012 03:20 PM
By: Rabbi Avi Shafran
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In this Oct 31 2012 photo, Ultra-orthodox Jewish Residents of Sea Gate making their way through a partly destroyed street. The Sea Gate waterfront community suffered heavy damages in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Photo: Eli Wohl/VINNewsIn this Oct 31 2012 photo, Ultra-orthodox Jewish Residents of Sea Gate making their way through a partly destroyed street. The Sea Gate waterfront community suffered heavy damages in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Photo: Eli Wohl/VINNews

New York - With the storm they call Sandy three weeks gone (though not its repercussions, unfortunately), the rear-view mirror perspective allows us to reflect anew on a Jewish truth: that “natural” disasters are meant to make us think.

Some of the thoughts that have already been contemplated were projected outward, at larger society’s excesses and decadence, seeing the storm as a sign of Divine disapproval of things that the Divine, as taught us by our religious tradition, strongly condemns.

Others have regarded the hurricane as a stimulus for collective Jewish repentance, or, turning even more inward, for their own personal self-improvement, in whatever areas they feel need attention.

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Others still have looked at the tempest through the shining lens of the positive things it begat, the outpouring of concern and aid for others that came in its wake. From that perspective, Sandy was an opportunity to recognize the import of our interconnectedness, of the need to feel the pain of others, and to care for their needs.

All of those ideas are properly considered; what isn’t, though, is claiming that one knows with certitude the “reason” for the destruction and death—or any destruction or death. Making such assertions is the exclusive province of a prophet, and the Talmud teaches us that what little is left of prophecy in our times has been inherited by children and fools.

I don’t wish to strengthen the suspicion of some that I fall into that latter category by offering any personal prophetic declaration about Sandy; I have none. But I would like to share an observation with which a recent Shabbos guest of ours—a refugee, along with his wife, from flooded Far Rockaway—graced our table.

That table regularly hosts not only my wife’s delicious food and observations, and libations of varied sorts and strengths, but also divrei Torah on the parsha and Torah perspectives on current events. We had been talking, after the cholent, about the then-recent elections and how so many religious Jews were fretting over the second term the nation granted the president. My guest, surprisingly (or perhaps not so much, as he had only come to Jewish observance only as a young adult), found the hand-wringing a bit much, as do I. I pointed out that one of the curses in the Tochacha, the horrific description of what exile will include for the Jewish People, is that we Jews “will be chased by the sound of a rustling leaf” (Vayikra 26:36)—i.e. we will be terrified by even insubstantial fears.

To be sure, exile has provided us ample substantial fears, as do current events. Whether the danger is Iran, European anti-Semitism, Hamas and Hezbollah, yimach shmom,or any of a number of other looming perils, we have good reason indeed to feel unease in the world today. But fears of the “rustling leaf” variety also plague us, like those about the executive branch’s imagined hostility toward Israel or its “war on religion,” both of which are, at least in the opinion of some of us, phantasms. Are there efforts we need to make in Israel’s behalf, and to protect Americans’ religious rights? Certainly. Does the White House harbor an anti-Israel animus and plan on outlawing religious observance? Uh, no.

My Shabbos guest, whom I had just met for the first time less than an hour earlier, thought a moment and said, “Who knows? Maybe that was the message of the hurricane.”

“What was?” I asked,

He responded, in essence if not verbatim: “That we shouldn’t busy ourselves indulging fears, imagining enemies and exaggerating maybe legitimate but limited concerns into full-blown existential crises. That we shouldn’t forget that G-d runs the world.”

“A truly worthy thought,” I said, and I meant it.

Something like a hurricane, which we are powerless to divert from its destined path and can’t even predict more than a few days ahead of time, reminds us that the power we need to ponder isn’t a person or a country or a political party. It’s Hashem. He is in charge, and can dissipate all our fears, the reasonable and unreasonable alike, at any moment He chooses.

Certainly not much of a chiddush, or novel thought, that. But sometimes, still, we might need a reminder.

Rabbi Avi Shafran is the Director of Public Affairs for Agudath Israel of America.


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Read Comments (3)  —  Post Yours »

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 Nov 21, 2012 at 04:04 PM GalutYid Says:

We look to the Talmudic sages for wisdom, and I would like to point out an important thing that they said about anti-semitism and persecution during exile. The fact that Jews have been scattered in various countries throughout the world is no accident, it is Divine providence. See the Torah, Deuteronomy 4:27 and 28:64. The sages explained that the scattering was actually G-d's way of protecting the Jews. If Jews were all in one place, it would be easier for an anti-Semitic ruler to destroy them all. But G-d made sure that when Jews were expelled and persecuted in Spain, there was a king in Poland who let them live freely. When Jews were being slaughtered in Europe, there was a land America where they were safe. During the centuries of Christian persecution, there was a Muslim world that was relatively tolerant. Therefore, we say it is a great mistake to make a homeland and gather all Jews to one place. This will only be possible in the messianic era when G-d will give us His open protection.

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 Nov 21, 2012 at 04:04 PM GalutYid Says:

The original Zionist leaders envisioned their state as a safe haven to welcome the Jews, but today we see that it didn't turn out that way. On the contrary, it has become the world's most dangerous place for Jews to live. The only Jews who used the state of Israel as a haven from persecution were the Jews from Muslim countries who fled there in the 1950's, but why were they persecuted at all in their home countries? Only because of Arab anger over the foundation of the state of Israel. Before Zionism they lived in relative tranquility.

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 Nov 22, 2012 at 01:00 AM Anonymous Says:

They also left Arab countries because the Zionists outright lied to them that they would give them wonderful lives if they joined them in leaving their good lives behind and joining them in this new egel. When they did finally get to Israel, the Zionists took away their tefillin, sefarim, etc. and shmaded them up very well, even without parental permission and worse. Everyone is so enamored with the "baal teshuva movement" in Israel. But nobody stops to think from where came this need for a baal teshuva movement.

Listening to and reading the news this past week has been almost surreal! In America, you have a super-storm sent by Hashem, of course, and then you have massive chesed and areivus among all sectors of klal yisrael as life returns to a normal galus existence. Israel, however, goes back to still having no peace and all its children forcibly conscripted in its anti-Torah indoctrination facility/army with attendant risks ch"V. But Zionists, and other very smart Jews, still believe in their egel...

If anyone wonders how people actually had a hava amina to worship the baal, when Eliyahu hanavi walked in their midst, one need only look at Zionism to understand these fallacies.

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