That which transpired during these past few weeks should have shaken us all. To be sure, traumatic events have been pounding away at American Jewry for years now – as a matter of fact, from 9/11 on. But few of us have taken them to heart. Something was happening and is happening in the world, but we choose not to see or hear. It’s easier to attribute everything to natural causes because then we can go on our merry way and indulge in business as usual.
But the most recent occurrences were different. First, we were witness to the roller-coaster stock market. In particular, for three consecutive wild days the market’s closing numbers differed greatly – but on each day the digits totaled 26, which in Hebrew, the Holy Tongue, equals the Name of G-d. I devoted my August 19 column (“No Coincidences”) to the phenomenon People smiled. They found it curious. Only a very small number considered it might be a message from G-d telling us that at the end of the day, He is in charge. If He wills it, all our speculation, all our best-laid plans, can come to naught, and in a matter of minutes our money is gone.
We blame our financial downturns on this or that, but only to an exceptional few has it occurred that this might be a warning from the Almighty to stop worshipping the Golden Calf and re-examine our lives. We refuse to listen, so the wake-up calls became more intense. New York, the bastion of strength and finance, and Washington, the center of government and the symbol of power, shook as the tremors of an earthquake rocked our very foundations. To be sure, it lasted only a few moments, so the experience made for good conversation. Once again, we failed to heed the call.
But G-d keeps knocking. The calls become louder and louder. Hurricane Irene, in all her fury, comes to visit. We hear the warning – a historic hurricane, the likes of which New York had not witnessed. The mayor warns all citizens to be on guard. Public transportation is shut down; communities in low-lying areas are ordered to evacuate. Once again, many dismiss the warnings and attribute them to overreaction. But then, the warnings become more urgent and can no longer be ignored.
I reside on Long Island, and we were told to evacuate on Erev Shabbos. But we were conflicted. What to do? Where to go? How would we make it before Shabbos?
Frantic calls were made. People tried to get reservations in nearby hotels, only to be told they were all fully booked. Many decided to leave their homes. Along with two of my children who live nearby, I was caught in a dilemma. To be sure, we had many invitations. My children who reside in Brooklyn urged us to come to them. Hineni friends who have studied with us for years and live in areas that were not threatened offered their hospitality.
But what if we encountered a traffic jam and couldn’t make it to our destination before sundown? Every highway had its own perils, so we decided to stay together in the house of my daughter. The knowledge that we would all be together was comforting and strengthening. Baruch Hashem, with all the kinderlach, we are a large mishpachah. My children decided we would all sleep on the same floor so that we might watch over one another and, if the electricity failed or some other crisis erupted, we would all be there to help.
Shabbos was calm, but the announcements became more ominous. The eye of the storm was expected to hit with full force in the middle of the night or at dawn. Once again, we were told to evacuate. This time there was no fear of desecrating the Sabbath, but the possibility of being stuck on the road with babies and small children was frightening, so once again we decided to stay put. The little ones kept everyone busy. One of my grandsons learned the entire night, my daughter recited Tehillim until the break of dawn, and we all davened with full hearts.
As for me, the word “evacuation”evoked ominous memories. It took me back to a different time. I will never forget the sound of their voices – “All Jews must evacuate!” And there were other painful reminders – the questions of what to do and where to go, the dangers we might encounter on the road, etc.
Oh, I know. My thoughts were totally ridiculous; this was totally different. Just the same, please understand that those of us who went through the Holocaust remain forever scarred and can never forget. Even as these recollections crowded my heart, our Torah teaching of the flood in the days of Noah also came to mind. I asked myself a question we must all ask – Are the heinous sins that brought about the flood still a part of us? Over the thousands of years that have since transpired, have we really changed? Of course, we cloak our transgressions in sophisticated 21st-century garb, but the question remains, Have we changed? Are we living by the laws of our G-d?
We Jews have to understand that there are no accidents in this world. Nothing occurs by coincidence, and what’s happened these past few weeks are wake-up calls we dare not ignore or attribute to happenstance.
“Tribulations are not visited on the world but for the Jewish people” is a teaching of the Talmud. Just think of the wake-up calls we’ve had in the past several weeks alone – the passing of three Torah sages in the U.S., Europe and Israel; the barbaric slaughter of little Leiby; the savage murder of a Torah sage in Israel. But as much as we mourned and wept, as much as we united in expressing our sorrow, we have yet to make changes in our lives and banish the jealousies, the mean-spiritedness, the strife and hatred that have become part and parcel of our lives.
As these thoughts dominated my mind, the fierce winds and torrential rain could be heard from outside. Suddenly, it became dark. We had lost power, and in the darkness of the night I said a silent prayer.
“Ribbono Shel Olam, in the parshah we read on Shabbos, You told us we were bonim l’Makom – Your special children. So, Almighty G-d, You are not only the Creator of the Universe, but You are our Father, Who chose us to be His.
“Surely as our Father You will forgive us and spare us from any further tribulations. Let none of Your children come to any harm in the fury of this storm. Protect us, guard us, even if we are not deserving.
“As for me, I give You my word that so long as You allow me, I will not stop but will remind myself and all Your children of who we are – Your special children who have a mandate to live by that awesome calling.”
It is to that end that, B’ezrat Hashem, I will devote my next few columns. It is to that end that I will speak. True, I have always tried to achieve that goal. It was in that spirit that I founded Hineni so many years ago.
So what is different now? Haven’t I been doing this all along? The answer to that is “yes” and “no.”
Yes, Hashem did grant us the privilege of being among the first to start a kiruv/outreach movement. But now, in these pre-messianic times, our thrust cannot be directed to secular Jews alone, for the sin that is at the root of our destruction, the sin that has enveloped us in dense darkness for almost 2,000 years, is not limited to a small segment of our people but is, sadly, very much a part of us all – even our own Torah community.
(To Be Continued)