“Sandy gives New York a real thrashing!” screamed the headlines. “Hmmm, who exactly is Sandy and why is she thrashing New York,” I wonder. How about this one: (an exact quote) “For all those left homeless, for all those left scared and frightened, there is an enormous lesson from this hurricane – mother nature will do what she wants, when she wants, and our modern world can only bow before it.” Now I am really confused – who is this mother and why is she acting so mean – aren’t mothers supposed to be nice? And more so – what exactly is this “enormous” lesson? Why should I bow to her?
Baruch Hashem, we Torah abiding Jews know the truth. Even though the meteorologists have explained what brought about Hurricane Sandy and the post-tropical superstorm that resulted, we know the cause of all those factors. Hashem, the “Cause of all Causes,” orchestrated this great showing of His Power, and there was a reason for it. We do not have prophets who can tell us which one of the many sins of our world was the basis for the great punishment Hashem inflicted – nor is it our job to point fingers. We must share in the pain and suffering of those who experienced bodily harm or damage to their property, and offer whatever help possible. The outpouring of chesed seen in our communities created a great Kiddush Hashem and is definitely a great zechus for Klal Yisroel. On the other hand, the Gemara in Yevomos (63a) tells us that when punishment comes to the world it is to teach us a lesson. Let us suggest one possible lesson that Hashem was teaching us when He sent Sandy to the East Coast.
The Downside Of Modern Technology
Rav Aryeh Leib Kahn (Rosh Kollel Yad Halevi Kiryat Sefer) once pointed out that with the rapid advancement of modern technology we are in danger of becoming distanced from Hashem. For example, before the advent of cell phones, if you traveled out of town, and suddenly started to worry that perhaps you forgot to turn off the fire under a pot, there was nothing to do other than daven to Hashem that everything will be okay. But now, all you need to do is whip out your cell, call the neighbor and ask them to make sure the fire is out!
The more technology we have, the more we can chas v’sholom, forget Hashem. With our heated and (supposedly) waterproof homes, fitted with gas, electricity, and running water, we feel prepared. This mindset is the antithesis to the reason for our existence, as Hashem created us to become close to Him. The more trust we put in our own actions, the further we become from Hashem. To save us from this serious error and its dreadful results, once in a while Hashem sends us a reminder that He is the one in charge. Sometimes the wakeup call is on a small scale, to an individual in his own private life – and sometimes, like now, it is an extremely painful one to a larger community.
What Can We Put Our Trust In?
In the “olden days,” when night fell, the day ended. But in the modern day, that has changed. Everywhere we go, bright lights make it seem like daytime – we feel that we have conquered the darkness. When we are suddenly thrown into pitch-blackness, we realize that Hashem is the one who is lighting up our nights. When we cannot use all our electric powered appliances and devices, we realize how vulnerable we really are. When a tree comes crashing down on two pedestrians the day after the storm, we remember that we only make it home safely because Hashem is protecting us. And when ferocious winds, which sound like a freight train rattling through the empty streets, hurl objects through the air, we realize what it would be like if Hashem were not usually holding back those winds. When the temperatures begin to drop and the heat does not work, we see that we have no control over the cold. And taking cold showers certainly is not pleasant.
But the lessons don’t stop there. Hashem wanted to show us that He is always “ahead of the game.” Many people weren’t scared of power outages because they had generators to produce their own electricity. But even that doesn’t always help. In some places, the generator was flooded and stopped working. In others, due to the gasoline shortage, there isn’t fuel to power the generator! Many felt secure with their cell phones – they would be affecting by down phone lines – and then the cell phone services were disrupted because cell towers were down.
In the midst of it all, a raging fire broke out. Well, we have modern fire fighting equipment and it will be out in a jiffy. Not here. The scene was reminiscent of the days when villagers used bucket brigades in a valiant but futile effort to save their town from burning down. For hours the fire raged out of control and one hundred homes unfortunately burnt to the ground. We can’t put our trust in the fire department either.
Not everyone seemed to have learned the proper lesson, though. “Our mistake was that we only built the sea wall 12 feet high. Next time, we will build it 16 feet high to prevent flooding,” announced an official.
However, if Hashem wants to flood an entire neighborhood, chas v’sholom, we can build the wall as high as we want, and it won’t help. Real estate is not something to put our trust in either. A beach home worth $9.5 million was swept away by the waves. Our storm drains didn’t save us because leaves from the fallen trees clogged the gutters, preventing them from functioning properly. In some cases, the gutters themselves caused the flooding when the huge amount of pressure at the outlet forced water backwards into the houses and streets. Beautiful homes became swimming pools and were totally waterlogged. Our ability to go from place to place with ease was also destroyed. The fallen trees made even the non-flooded streets impassible. The subway system was flooded, together with many tunnels. The list goes on and on.
Thank And Pray
The results of this lesson are twofold. First, we must constantly turn to Hashem and ask for His ongoing protection. We realize that without Him we are small, helpless creatures. Let us also pray for the quick recovery of all those who are still suffering from this catastrophe.
But there is an even more important lesson. Rav Avigdor Miller zt”l once said that we must learn to appreciate everything Hashem gives us. Even the four walls around us must be appreciated! At the time he said this, no one realized how true his words were. But now, after Hashem sent us Sandy, we can really appreciate the walls around us. We will learn to open our eyes and be thankful for all that we have. We won’t take all these modern comforts for granted, as we realize that they are all great kindnesses from Hashem. Each time we say Modim in Shemoneh Esrei, let us have in mind a different one of those conveniences. Hopefully, our thanking Hashem on a constant basis, will keep us from having to be reminded yet again that everything we have truly comes from Him.Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus
About the Author: Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus, raised and educated in Los Angeles and subsequently Yeshivas Toras Moshe in Yerushalayim, is the Rosh Kollel of the Zichron Aron Yaakov Kollel in Kiryat Sefer , Israel. He lectures for the public and is the director of the Chasdei Rivka Free Loan Gemach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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