The Heroes of Hurricane Sandy: Why Does Our Best Only Come Out When Tragedy Strikes?

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It happened during the year that I was studying in Israel. My daily prayers at that time, despite the fact that I tried to make them meaningful, often ended up being less inspired than I would have liked. But then, one morning, while I was praying, I heard my roommates talking about a terror attack that had just taken place. People were badly injured and dying just a few miles away from where I was standing, and in an instant, my prayers were on fire. As I beseeched the Almighty to heal the wounded and comfort the mourners from the depths of my heart, tears pouring out of my eyes, I suddenly became disturbed by what had just happened.

Why did it take such a tragedy to bring out my best? Why did the extreme suffering of others have to occur in order to make my prayers more connected? As I see the outpouring of prayers and generosity in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, this question troubles me again. Strangers opening up their homes to strangers to warm up, charge cell phones, move in with them. People collecting donations and supplies for those who lost everything. Food and water tirelessly being distributed to the hungry and downtrodden. Regular people stepping up to the plate and becoming heroes.

Why must there be such drastic suffering in order for many of us to tap into those resources lurking within? If that potential is there all the time, why can’t it come out more often? What if we could hold on to some of this inspiration after the Sandy victims are taken care of? To keep on praying with focus? To keep on giving with open hands?  To keep on empathizing with all the “quiet” suffering that happens every single day?

Sure, it’s easiest to call upon the “hero within” when there’s a major calamity affecting a large number of people, but what would the world look like if on regular days we were thinking about the sick, the poor, the orphans, the widows, those struggling with marital problems, infertility, dating woes, mental health issues, and praying for them and giving to them and opening our homes and our hearts to them?

You know what it would look like? Messianic times, or yamos hamoshiach, as we say in Hebrew. As a practicing, believing Orthodox Jew living in a cynical world, it’s sometimes hard to imagine what the utopia of yamos hamoshiach would look likeOr how achieving it would be possible. But the response I’m seeing from this storm gives me hope that we have a collective, untapped greatness which could continue to spread goodness into the world even after life goes back to “normal” if. and only if, we work to hold on to it.

The human mind cannot understand the thoughts of the Almighty, so I won’t pretend that I do, but I wonder if one of the reasons there’s suffering in the world is in order to help us to discover what we’re capable of. If this is true, it’s obviously a very troubling trade off – your physical loss for my spiritual gain.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. During yamos hamoshiach, suffering is supposed to end. And yamos hamoshiach is supposed to be something that WE can bring. So maybe the key to ending the suffering is for each of us to bring more of that inner greatness out on regular days, so we won’t need catastrophes to unlock the potential within. Please join with me and commit to one small way you can keep on giving even after the Sandy news stories fizzle out.

And together, may we bring an end to suffering and merit to see the redemption soon, speedily in our days.

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Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.

Comments

  1. AMEN! AMEN! AMEN! May MOSHIACH show himself NOW!!!!!

  2. I try to live “Yamos Hamoshiach” every day, at least in my own life. I happen to be more fortunate than most because in my line of work, I work with developmentally disabled kids every day. I also have a child of my own who teeters between “normalcy” and “special needs” and a child with ADHD, so I am no stranger to giving and working on patience, tolerance, and unconditional love and acceptance 24/7. That being said, life still gets mundane as it does for everyone, but I make the choice to bring sparks of holiness as much as I can through maintaining inspiration. I will give you three examples, and I hope this will help others:
    1.Driving to work can be boring, frustrating, and just downright annoying because you are focusing on what your typical busy work day is going to demand of you. I pop in a CD with the most powerful religious singers of our times like Shlomie Dachs, Lipa Schmeltzer, and Yaakov Shwekeym and I listen to songs that use words of Tehillim or other Hebrew quotes from the Torah, with powerful, beautiful music.I listen to the words of Torah as I listen to the singers’ angelic voices bring out the strength of those words, and just translate them to myself and let them enter my soul over and over as I drive. It makes me enter work on a cloud and I have spiritually infused strength at least for the morning. Music has amazing potential to elevate our moods and help us tap into our souls.

    2.I learn with a Torah partner on the phone once a week. Our learning session consists of one page of a book called Praying with Fire and one page of Positive Word Power, plus a short discussion on a topic we agree upon ahead of time. No matter how tired I am, I make it a point to commit that one half hour a week to that learning session–it makes me feel good that I set aside that time, and the stuff we learn is real-life, every day topics that most of us need a constant infusion of Torah medicine of to keep a spiritually inspired perspective on.

    3.Do a HUGE act of chessed once a day.No, while my work is chesed, this doesn;t count. I mean UNPAID act of chesed, and HUGE means it is something HUGE for you. For me, I don’t have a ton of money to donate and obviously almost no time to donate. I CAN do something simple–I might call my mom and tell her I love her, check up on a friend I haven’t been in touch with in a while, or make an effort to set the mundane aside and spend QUALITY time with my spouse where the phone is off, we do not answer the door, and the kids may NOT interrupt during that time. Think of things in your life you need to give more of yourself to, and make an effort (just a few minutes a day) to invest in it–it will make a huge difference in your regular level of inspiration because we tend to feel inspired when we are committing to what’s really important in life.

    I have many other “projects” I do on myself and others on a regular basis to try and at least keep myself feeling inspired regularly, and I see the difference in my home environment. BH my kids seem to be growing up with an awe of G-d and running with passion to grab onto Mitzvot, and my marriage can survive the down periods when they inevitably happen with the hectic pace of life, with me and my husband as beloved friends. I did not grow up religious and I have committed myself to making a lot of changes from the direction of who I was growing up and it’s a ton of work ALL the time. YES, there are mistakes, flops, bad moments, sometimes even a bad day or week, but generally speaking I feel my life keeps me where I should be at so Sandy doesn’t have to come and throw everything into chaos to bring out the best. I hope this helps others and may we merit Hashem sending Mashiach speedily and with no more suffering!

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