The sitting and waiting was becoming unbearable. A week of preparations, warnings, and constantly tracking a shifting cone can leave you exhausted even before the hurricane begins. It is easy to stay calm and confident until the many wonderful, well-intentioned people and organizations around the world let you know they are holding Tehillim rallies for your survival.
The checklist of preparations before a hurricane is intense – buy water, batteries, gas, flashlights, take in outdoor furniture, put up shutters or plywood, fill bathtubs, and more. Yet, with all the preparations, we are powerless from actually influencing the storm. The meteorologists and media can talk about and analyze the storm, but they cannot direct it. Nobody can—not scientists, not the Army or Air Force, not even great kabbalists. The key to the strength and trajectory of hurricane Irma belonged exclusively to the Almighty and nobody else. And that is why our community turned to Him. When the shutters were hung and the supplies purchased, we gathered in the Shul for a heartfelt plea to the Ribono Shel Olam that the monster category 5 storm that was heading our way and threatened our very lives be redirected and downgraded and spare not only us, but all.
Mi yichyeh u’mi yamus…mi ba’mayim, who will live and who will die…who by water? While our tehillim rally took place two weeks before we would recite these profound words in U’nesaneh Tokef, they were poignantly on our minds and in our hearts that night. The intensity of tefillah in the countdown to a catastrophic hurricane surpassed even ne’ilah in its intent and sincerity.
As Sunday progressed and the winds and rain picked up in Boca Raton, we closely followed the movement of Irma and its impact on our neighboring communities. We watched Miami get hit hard from the storm surge and heard of the power outages as the storm made its way north towards us. When it finally arrived, the rain went sideways and the wind howled. Trees landed on houses and cars, windows smashed and broke; for many, the electricity is still out. The Shul parking lot flooded and a massive tree crashed into our gate. But most importantly, nobody from our community was hurt, all are ok, and the devastation and destruction that threatened us never materialized.
We recognize that not all who davened they be spared were answered in the affirmative as much as we were. We continue to pray for their well-being, their safety, and that recovery efforts go smoothly. Nevertheless, there is something incredibly special as a community in palpably feeling that our tefillos were answered and that Hashem said YES to our heartfelt pleas. Modim anachnu lach…al nisecha she’bechol yom imanu, we are forever grateful to You Hashem, for Your miracles that are with us each and every day.
A man is late for an interview and he’s been driving around the block for 20 minutes trying to find a parking spot. Running out of time and in great desperation, he looks to the heavens and says “God, if you help me find a parking spot right now, I’ll never speak lashon hara again, I will always make it to shul on time and I will give generously to tzedaka.” Just then, a parking spot opens up right in front of the building in which he is having his meeting. He sees the spot, looks back up to the Heavens and says, “never mind God, I found one.”
We bang on the bima to say tehillim when there is an emergency or a terribly ill individual. We send an email notice and sign people up to complete sefer Tehillim in times of great need. But do we equally rush to gather and sign up to say Tehillim as an expression of gratitude when everything turns out ok? Or, like the man, do we say, never mind Hashem, ignore the promises we made at the Tehillim rally—as it turns out, the hurricane wasn’t that bad after all.
Throughout the storm, I kept watching a large tree as the wind whipped through its leaves and its branches and made it bend until it seemed at times like it reached a ninety degree angle. I was sure it was going to snap. At one point, I heard a loud crack and knew a tree had snapped. I looked outside at my tree but it was still stubbornly standing tall. It was the tree next to it that broke in half and fell to the ground landing with a loud thud. I wondered why one tree endured and the other couldn’t withstand the wind, and then I remembered what the rabbis taught us.
לעולם יהא אדם רך כקנה ואל יהא קשה כארז – A person should always be soft like a reed, and not stiff like a cedar (Ta’anis 20a). A reed is soft and flexible and, therefore, when it confronts winds and the elements, it endures. A cedar is stiff and rigid; as a result, even an unimpressive wind can knock it over. When hardship comes, when we face challenges, we need to go with the flow, put our trust in Hashem and adapt to what He throws our way. When we are rigid, we tighten up with fear, angst and a lack of trust, and it becomes easy to be knocked right over.
When surveying the downed trees, one cannot help but notice a second difference. The trees that stayed up, like the palms, are not only flexible and bendable, but they have deep roots that hold their foundation steady. The trees that have very shallow roots, however, like the ficus, tip right over, as there is no foundation to hold them strong.
To weather the storms life throws our way, we must never forget how deep our roots go. We have an incredibly strong foundation that can hold us up against any wind, as long as we remember where we come from and tap into the tradition of not only praying to Hashem in times of need, but thanking Him in times of goodness and joy.
May our cries of ya’ancha Hashem b’yom tzara, answer us Hashem on our day of crisis, always be followed by a feeling of tov l’hodos laShem, it is good to thank Hashem.