By Rabbi Yisroel Jason Gelber
Since Hurricane Sandy landed with devastating ferocity early this week, armchair theologians and serious thinkers alike have postulated what Divine message we might draw from this latest natural disaster. Certainly I have neither the wisdom nor temerity to speculate on the matter. But as Sandy’s clouds cleared, I have learned important lessons about how this trial might impact those unaffected by it directly.
Rav Shlomo Wolbe, in his magnificent work Alei Shur, states that the Almighty certainly does not need “our help” to repair the world’s problems. Yet nevertheless He wants and invites our help so that we may become more refined, G-dly human beings.
An intriguing passage in the Talmud: (Bava Basra 10a) describes how a wicked Roman nobleman named Turnus Rufus challenged the great Jewish sage Rabbi Akiva with the following query: “If your G-d loves poor people so much, why doesn’t He provide for them?” Rabbi Akiva answered that G-d indeed wishes for all of His creations to be protected and sustained; yet, He allows humanity to develop its own merit and therefore by saved from Divine punishment (Gehenim) by learning to take care of one another. The poor and unfortunate, in the Talmud’s case, allow those blessed with abundance to demonstrate love and compassion, which in turn elevates all of society.
We often consider our various material blessings to be a function of our own deservedness. In fact, the Talmud here suggests that the opposite may be true: perhaps these blessings are simply the instruments that we need, and are given with the Almighty’s hashgacha pratis to achieve deservedness, rather than reflections of merit itself.
Extending the concept beyond material possessions, we might view any blessing that we enjoy – health, free time, talent – as a responsibility which is summoning a higher calling. We justify these blessings only if we can utilize them for their intended purpose.
While I cannot conceive of G-d’s reasons for sending the storm itself, I can observe that in its punishing wake the global Jewish community has mobilized so much of its abundance – material and otherwise – to care for thousands of its suddenly suffering members. Busloads of food, clothing and supplies arrive in New York and New Jersey daily from communities across the United States; caravans of volunteers leave their jobs and their families to assist personally in tedious clean-up efforts. We do not await such opportunities to reveal our love and concern; but when invariably they arrive, we recognize that the challenge itself may be precisely what precipitated the blessings we enjoy, and with which we now are privileged to respond.
Rabbi Yisroel Jason Gelber is founder of www.chavrusamatch.com.