We open the door slowly. I imagine Noah venturing out and testing the ground after the flood. Can we go out again? What is waiting for us? Is there a world to stand on?
The street is covered with debris. Huge trees are toppled, jagged roots jut out from the earth, and roads are blocked. There is no power or heat.
Peoples’ lives here are shattered. Some stand outside their homes in a daze. Basements are filled with dirty water, many up to their ceilings. Inside homes there are appliances floating around, furniture destroyed, and irreplaceable photos of loved ones who have left this earth – all lost forever. A family I know has stood for hours in waist-deep freezing water, trying to blindly rescue holy books submerged in their downstairs study. Their kitchen counter is now lined with the precious sefarim, pages left open, attempting to dry. It looks as if the books are gasping for air.
As I drive through the neighborhood and nearby community I cannot believe my eyes. Garages are left open, filled with mud. Entire contents of homes are spilled out onto lawns. Mattresses, dressers, children’s toys, kitchen tables, garbage bags of clothing – all destroyed.
Some homes seem intact but I know that inside, the walls have been breached. How will we rebuild?
And then I see a group of men all walking in one direction. I realize they have come to pray together in someone’s home. More and more keep coming steadily.
Despite the destruction, the loss, the fear, the lack of heat and electricity, I am witness to raw, genuine faith and to humankind at its best. Those few who do have heat and electricity have invited others to move in. There are numerous families living together in one home. Hosts are sharing their food, rooms, and their privacy – all hard to come by right now. The incredible kindness happening here must stir the heavens above to have compassion on us.
Schools stay in touch through constant e-mails. We are told to please encourage our children to offer help cleaning the homes of young and old from water and debris. Families have lost every bit of clothing and furniture. A group of teenage girls decide to collect and sort through clothing for those who have none. Today, my son joined classmates in his yeshiva, studying Torah for a few hours without heat or electricity. Hundreds of younger boys will soon be starting school in various homes that have remained intact. My daughter’s school has flooded badly. The damage is great and we do not yet know when the doors will open.
Right now there is a shortage of gasoline. We cannot drive too far; some have already run out of fuel while on the road. Word about restoration of power is discouraging. We are told that transformers are under water. Many are freezing. The nights especially are cold. Everyone is in a state of disbelief.
When God brought the flood waters onto earth in the days of Noah, the deluge was called in Hebrew a “mabul” because it was “belbal es hakol” – it confused everything. It transported the high to low and caused all things to float away. This has happened before our very eyes.
The Torah then relates that God caused a spirit to pass over the earth and the waters subsided. Our sages teach that this was a spirit of consolation and relief that passed before Him.
I pray that we, too, have reached the time when we can receive God’s consolation and relief.