Whenever events of such tragic proportion occur, I find myself glued to the news reports and I sometimes feel that there are three of me reading the information, each fighting for control of my emotions.
The researcher/explorer/perhaps voyeur is gaping at the devastating scope of the destruction, the sheer power of nature and the shock and the horror that lie exposed in every picture. Then the human/parent/perhaps emotional one notices a single picture that I can relate to, a child holding a parent’s hand which cannot hold him back, a parent staring at what was once home and is now cemetery for her once thriving family and I feel overcome with sadness and a desire to somehow feed/heal/help/rebuild everything in sight, or to at least hold the hands of those in such utter pain.
Perhaps the most complex of all is the religious me, trying to find meaning and truth in this chaos and devastation. It is so tempting to simply wave it all away as a freak of ‘nature’, some random act inevitable in the infinite spinning of the cosmos, but the scientist in me refuses to respond to my emotions and intellect with such a cliché. A universe brought into being from non-existence by an intelligent creator must constantly be, and act only in accordance with, said creator’s specific creative architecture and this realization rubs the hardest against every feeling and thought that yells out from the images of pain.
It is at times like this that I can almost feel the emotion of Moses as he cries out to G-d (Ex 5:22) lomo hareioso lo’om hazeh why have you caused bad to this nation?! I can remember the pain in the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s voice as he cried out to G-d about the murder of young mother, and my entire religious being, tossed about by the paradox of chaotic imagery in an orchestrated world yearns for some validation, some sense through this mess.
Unfortunately, nowhere in the 24 books of the bible, nor in the more than 2000 pages of the Talmud nor in 3750 years of Jewish history has G-d ever given us the gift of clarity in this issue. Never in millennia of slavery, holocaust and persecution did G-d reach out and gift the world with a small memo, a note, explaining, in a way that we can understand, why such pain and suffering occurs.
It seems that in our continuing relationship contract G-d has only granted us one gift and in all pursuits for meaning this one comes up again and again – it’s the gift of partnership. I’ve created a world, G-d tells us, and you have a part in it. I need something from you. This need is perhaps the one thing that, although it doesn’t answer our questions, it does buoy our conscience – I am referring to G-d’s ‘need’ for our action.
“I will not reveal to you, ever, My inner calculations or reasoning,” G-d says, “but this I will let you know; there is work to be done. People to need to be fed, medicine to be delivered, and I am counting on you”.
Had we been given the choice between understanding G-d’s plan or being a part of it, at times like these I waver on which I would chose. Ultimately though, as I go online to donate, or as I make life more comfortable for someone closer to home, I thank G-d and I truly appreciate this gift. Yes, I would love to have the peace of knowledge and clarity, but for now, what is more pleasurable to this microscopic jumble of biological molecules than to know that in the scope of this infinite universe, I do, and I can, matter?
Taking this - at once limiting and yet thrilling and inspiring - limitation into account, I now revisit the images of tragedy splashed before me and, in the context of fulfilling a purpose which G-d intended, I ask again, why? Or better yet, WHY??!! Of what purpose and in which scheme can this devastation fit? Only now, I don’t look for answers or explanations, rather for mission and inspiration. The “why?” translates into “what?” Instead of a bottomless query for reason, I look at the tragedy and ask myself how will this bring out a potential of mine which until now was dormant? Where in this picture did G-d see in me a function? What can I do, or, even more poignant, what new type of person can I become?
If you, reading these thoughts, follow along and feel similarly, I hope that together we don’t only do all that we can to help with the immediate needs. I hope that as we do what we can for those in need now, we also make changes to our lifestyles. Let’s not just act generously, let’s become more generous. Let’s not just give of our time, let’s become volunteers. Now that we’ve found this within ourselves let’s make it a part of us. It will not only make the world a better place, it will live on as a legacy for those who suffered and perished, giving them an enduring role in the betterment of mankind.
Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum
PS as I write this, we at Chabad at Einstein are launching two opportunities to facilitate the types of actions we would like to increase close to home:
-The Holtzberg Hospitality Home is a program to connect volunteers to patients in hospitals in the North-East Bronx and their families, offering all types of assistance. Join at www.ChabadMed.com/Holtzberg.
-ChabadAtEinstein.echaritybox.com allows you to install a virtual charity box on your desktop or cell phone to make charity a part of everyday life. All donations this week will be going to the Haiti relief effort, and afterwards it will be going to the vital work of the Holtzberg Hospitality Home.
Chabad of the Medical Community • 1954 Tenbroeck Avenue • Bronx, NY 10461-1834 • 718-887-0770