A pediatrician from the area shared a remarkable story with me this week. In 2005, when Hurricane Wilma struck, many people and businesses lost power for an extended period of time, including this doctor. She was unable to practice or care for her patients. Out of nowhere, she received a call from our very own Dr. Aaron Kaweblum, who offered her space to operate in his pediatric office until she was able to return to her own building.
Now, almost eight years later, she shared, her father has paid it forward. Her father is a dermatologist in Long Island. He was blessed to still have power this week, despite the horrific storm the area sustained. Remembering the kindness bestowed upon his daughter, he made an unsolicited call to a colleague who had lost power to see if he needed a place to host his practice until the power was turned back on.
Sometimes, the most extraordinary acts of kindness and goodness are born in the darkest moments. During those times, we get a glimpse into man’s capacity to act selflessly and to truly care about others. Two weeks ago, a young child in our community, 13 month old Coby, became gravely ill. He was airlifted to Miami Children’s Hospital moments before Shabbos. There was little we could do but pray, and pray we did. I will never forget the intensity, sincerity, and unity contained in the prayers that Friday evening on Coby’s behalf.
For the next week, our community came together in an incredible way. People who had never met Coby or his parents took upon themselves to do better and to be better in his merit. Tehillim gatherings were held in the Shul, in people’s homes, and in schools across the community. A woman from the community emailed me that she was stuck in NY due to the storm, but was following Coby’s story closely. At one point during the storm, the power went out. Not sure what to do, she enlisted eight of her friends who sat the entire evening and said the complete book of Tehillim for Coby.
Coby has thank God turned the corner and is expected to miraculously make a full recovery. Neither his parents nor we will ever understand why their little boy had to go through this traumatic episode. But what we do know is that in his merit, some people opened a book of Tehillim for the first time. Others, who had given up on prayer, prayed more passionately and authentically than they ever had before. Still others did the mitzvah of taking challah for the first time, or recommitted to working on lashon ha’rah, or to learning more Torah.
Sadly, for too many, it takes tragedy, crisis, or human suffering to be willing to stop thinking about ourselves and to think of others. Hurricane Sandy, like so many natural disasters before her, elicits many theological questions that haunt us. Did God bring about the storm, or was it the result of nature? Why would God allow thousands, if not millions of people to suffer and to experience such devastating damage and loss?
As badly as we may want answers, and as much as we may seek to understand, part of believing in God’s existence is the concession that there are things about His world and the way He runs it that we simply cannot comprehend. What we can grasp, however, if we pause to notice it, is the extraordinary way that His children come together in the face of disaster.
Stories abound from around the NY area of people and families who selflessly thought of others and sought to relieve their suffering in small but meaningful ways. One person who had power used an extension cord and two power strips to invite anyone who needed to plug in to charge their phones. Others brought supplies, shared food, and even offered hospitality and the ability to do laundry. A Jewish community outside of NY sent busses to Long Island and New Jersey last Erev Shabbos to pick up strangers and bring them back for a Shabbos with lights, heat, warm food, and warm friendship.
Indeed, one leader of the Jewish community in the Five Towns described the situation as follows: “So the FEMA people are now going door-to-door asking people what issues they have. The guy said to me – how many people are staying here. I said we had 11 on Friday night. He said the FEMA people are just amazed that everyone in Lawrence who got their power back has families staying with them, some they don’t even know. He said the entire team is mesmerized at how the Jewish community is taking care of their downtrodden.”
Rabbi Adlerstein shared a humorous anecdote from this horrific episode. “Some community centers, shuls, and families in areas that had power and heat invited people from Far Rock away, Long Beach, and those areas to stay there for Shabbat, and they arranged transportation to pick them up. Someone who stayed behind asked a policeman if the people had been picked up yet. He told her “Yeah, the Hizbollah people came with buses and took everyone away.” She said, “umm…do you mean…the Hatzalah people?” He said, “I guess so, I’m not from this neighborhood ma’am.”
Twice in Bereishis, Avraham Avinu is confronted with the test of Lech Lecha. The first time it is to leave his homeland and his family – “Lech lecha mei’artzecha.” The second time it is to bring his beloved son to sacrifice him – “Lech lecha el Har Ha’Moriah.” The Midrash contemplates which Lech Lecha was a greater test and naturally concludes it was the commandment to Avraham to slaughter his own son. How could the Midrash have even contemplated this question? Can one compare the test of leaving one’s homeland with the promise of achieving fame and fortune with the test of killing one’s own offspring? Of course not. But perhaps the Midrash was wondering a different question: Which is greater – rising to the one-time occasion to perform an extraordinary act, or persevering daily to consistently live a life of values? This indeed, is a question worth contemplating.
From Coby’s illness and Hurricane Sandy we have learned much about ourselves and about others. We have seen the greatness, kindness, and generosity inherent within all of us. For now on, let’s work on ourselves to think of others daily and not wait for a crisis or emergency to put them first.