Originally Posted at OU.org
If you’re reading this, you probably have power back by now. Or maybe
you’re reading this at work. Or maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who
never lost power in the superstorm-formerly-known-as-hurricane-Sandy.
And if you’re reading this, you have probably also seen the
that have been flooding the Internet: parts of New York City neck-deep
in water; subway tunnels turned into log-flume tracks; 12-foot walls of
water smashing into urban hubs. And how about the financial nexus of the
world shut down for two straight days (which they tell us hasn’t
happened since the ol’ blizzard of 1888)? The presidential campaign
derailed days before the election? Pretty incredible.
If you have not been scrambling for hot water and a place to charge
your iPhone, you may have had time to reflect on all of this.
To me, it is not just a reminder of how big G-d is, but of how small
man is as well. Even the most powerful among us was not able to save NYC
from shutdown. No amount of money was able to bring water to the
burning houses in Queens. No amount of preparation could keep the
airports open. Even folks who are not religious would have to look into
the face of nature and admit powerlessness, if only for a time.
We go about our business every day, hardly realizing how much we
depend on matters completely outside our control. When the power went
out, most people just had to deal. Here in Passaic, Main Street has been
completely disabled, including the kosher grocery store; many ran low
on basic food supplies, until other supermarkets nearby opened up and
got running again. What if they hadn’t? What if this had been an actual
hurricane, a category 2 or 3 or 4? We could actually be without food.
For people who are well-off, the thought is hard to imagine. A
personal famine in the age of plenty? But if the roads are blocked, if
gasoline is inaccessible, if the power in the stores is out – it is a
It wouldn’t take much to make such a scenario a reality: a drought; a
serious oil embargo; a contagious epidemic – any of these could cripple
a city, state, or nation far worse than what has already happened to us
this week. We tend to forget nowadays that we still live in a world
that runs on environmental processes. We are so detached from the
natural world these days that we hardly realize that we still need rain
to grow our food! There isn’t yet a laboratory on the planet that can
synthesize wheat, or soybeans, or water (and odds are you wouldn’t
survive for long on jellybeans and Laffy Taffy).
human frailty is brought to the fore in a disaster like this. Which is
why it’s also such a great time for community building. We really need
each other as people. We forget this too nowadays. We forget that in the
long history of mankind, almost no society expected parents to raise
children without an entire network of help. We forget that carving out
time for friends and neighbors is not a luxury but a necessity to make
it through life’s challenges (and that our ancestors, from the Biblical
through the rabbinic times, all knew this well).
On the Day After Sandy I watched my neighbors across the street take
turns sawing at branches and working on contriving a way to get an
extension cord safely from one powerless house across the street to a
powered one. We all appreciate the togetherness that comes out of these
times; do we remember how much we need it?
The human condition is fragile and uncertain. It seems unlikely that
we will ever be able to beat nature – to control the weather, to produce
nourishment from inorganic materials, to create life from scratch in
the lab. We will just have to live with the constant possibility of
But to recognize that and to cast our lots in with those around us –
to recall even in times of prosperity and apparent control that we can’t
go it alone – that is a message which ennobles us above all the
creatures and forces of which nature is made. For nature is blind, and
one beast cannot help another unless it is so commanded by its genetic
makeup; but we can offer each other a cup of hot coffee when the power
is out, a shelter from the storm, or simply a hug in a time of tragedy.
And that is what makes us truly human in the face of a hurricane.