Thursday, November 08, 2012

the hurricane, the snow, and the tent of the Imahos

There is still no power in much of Far Rockaway and Bayswater (and other neighborhoods -- I mention these in particular because they are closest to where I live), homes have been ruined, gas is in short supply all over NY, and people desperately need help.  To top it off, we got hit with a no'reaster yesterday that knocked out some of the power that had been restored.  There are a number of organizations working to provide relief that you can reach out to if you want to provide assistance or need assistance, among them Achiezer and Five Towns Chabad.   

When our power came on I reminded my kids of the story of R' Chaim not wanting to sleep in his bed after Brisk was hit with a fire because he could not bear to have any pleasure while others were suffering.  My son's Rosh Yeshiva quoted a Rav in another community who suggested that they skip putting sugar in their coffee so that they would be mishtatef b'tzar'as hatzibur, even if in some small way.  I would suggest that even if you can't provide physical support or contribute financially, you can still do something -- you can be mispallel for the well being of those in need.  My gut tells me that davening with a real feeling of empathy for others qualifies as being mishtatef b'tzarasam as well.

I heard one Rav remark on all the Torah learning lost because of lack of power, schools being forced to close, etc.  Last week my son's yeshiva transformed the lunchroom of a neighboring girls school which had a backup generator into a beis medrash.  (The girls stayed home, as there was not enough power for the whole building).  It was heartening to see the mesirus nefesh of the bachurim to show up to a cold building (lights were on but heat was in short supply) to keep normal sedorim amidst the chaos. The yeshiva has since gotten some backup generators for its own building, but let's hope they get real power soon.

Chazal tell us that Eliezer experienced a miracle and made it from Avraham's home to Rivka's town in one day.  Why did such miracle happen?  Eliezer was "doleh u'mashkeh torah rabbo," he cherished every word of torah, every lesson he could learn from Avraham.  The Radomsker explains that Eliezer could not bear to be away from his Rebbi for a single day.  Therefore, Hashem gave him the bracha of a speedy one day trip.  Hopefully our love of the warmth and light of Torah will make an impression in shamayim and bring us light and warmth in gashmiyus as well. 

I was thinking this past Shabbos of YaVeira that the parsha was appropriate in more ways than one.  The bright side, for you glass-is-half-full folks, was the outpouring of hachnasas orchim and chessed to those who had been displaced by the storm.  Avraham would be proud of his children.  And then there is the other side, for us glass-is-half-empty realists.  It was not as cataclysmic as the destruction of Sdom, but the storm was in some ways far more tragic, as we are not speaking of Sdom -- we are speaking of frum communities hit with tremendous loss.  The Rambam writes (Hil Ta'anis perek 1):

אבל אם לא יזעקו ולא יריעו אלא יאמרו דבר זה ממנהג העולם אירע לנו וצרה זו נקרה נקרית. הרי זו דרך אכזריות וגורמת להם להדבק במעשיהם הרעים. ותוסיף הצרה צרות אחרות. הוא שכתוב בתורה והלכתם עמי בקרי והלכתי גם אני עמכם חמת קרי. כלומר כשאביא עליכם צרה כדי שתשובו אם תאמרו שהיא קרי אוסיף לכם חמת אותו קרי:
We have to think about what we can do better and why such events happen.  I'm not a navi -- you can make your own cheshbon hanefesh.   I am just encouraging that it be done, maybe not now, when we are all suffering, but in the weeks and months ahead when we have time to reflect.  Right now, there is too much suffering that yet needs to be alleviated.

As if the storm wasn't enough, there was the election  this past week.  Let me keep it simple: We are on a road to economic and social doom.  The only question is how long or short the road is.  That's all I want to say.  I also fear (as I have said before) that our bretheren in the Holy Land cannot rely in any way on the support of the current administration.  Why frum Jews would ignore that obvious fact is beyond me

Havolim already beat me to discussing the miracles of the light that burned from Shabbos to Shabbos in the tent of the Imahos, the bracha in the dough, and the cloud which enveloped their tent.  These miracles find their parallel in the Ohel Moed: the ner ma'aravi of the menorah which burned continuously, the lechem ha'panim that was as hot as the moment it was taken from the oven even after sitting out on the shulchan for a week, and the clouds which enveloped the camp and protected Bnei Yisrael.  The Ohel Moed that we shared as a community was a model of the personal ohel of the Imahos.  

What are we supposed to take away from these miracles?  

Hopefully each Shabbos we celebrate gives us a burst of spiritual energy and uplift.  We all know, however, that that spiritual booster shot wears off.  For some people it's gone by the time they get to the movie theater motzei Shabbos, for other people, it lasts a little longer into the week.  In the tent of the Imahos, the Shabbos candles never burned out -- the spirit of Shabbos, the booster shot of ruchniyus, never wore off as the week progressed.  

After you've been sitting in a cold house living by candlelight for a few days, you really appreciate a hot meal in a warm, well lit environment.  You can bet the bracha before that meal and the birchas hamazon afterwards has more meaning.  The dough of the Imahos gave that feeling all the time.  The warmth of the lechem hapanim, the spiritual energy that radiated within, never wore off.  

And finally, there were the clouds.  To tell you the truth, most of us living in the Northeast of the US are pretty sick of seeing and hearing about clouds and probably don't see them as a bracha right now : )   I know it's not pshat at all, but you can allow me a little license for derush. Perhaps the idea of "anan kashur al ha'ohel," the cloud "tied" to the tent, means that the clouds of adversity and challenge faced by the Imahos were always were "tied" to and placed in the context of the ner and bracha of the bread that were also part of the ohel.
  If adversity exists in a vacuum, without a spiritual anchor to help a person get through the storm, the consequences can be permanently damaging.  In such a case it is the hurricane storm clouds that uproot the ohel.   The spiritual ohel that the Imahos bequeathed to us  enables us to corral challenges and adversity and overcome them with bracha.


  1. Anonymous12:53 PM

    >>> glass-is-half-empty realists

    is not the glass realistically half-full?

    from exactly which pesukim is the Rambam quote?
    Vayikra 26:23-24? 27-28? a mix of these? "gam-
    ani"(af-ani?)? "chamas"(ba'chamas?)?

    >>> why such events happen

    (not to seem to sidestep the suffering that you
    say should preclude any immediate reflection, but) maybe this past shemini atzeres one (northeastern) person too many recited
    '... mashiv ha'ruach u'moride ha'geshem' 101 (or 90) times in a single, whirlwind session, practice which anticipates (& so seems to legitimize) a mechanical recitation of the second bracha of the Amidah (to which Hashem responds, "My Strength, My winds & My rains, are routine? mechanical? predictable? safe?")

    may everyone recover completely...

  2. I am proud of my two nephews who moved out of their apartments and back into their parents' house so that storm refugees could move into their emptied apartments for who knows how long. That's real hishtatfus, like the people at lakewoodsandy that offer rooms and freezer shelves and who knows what else. I'm in Chicago, not much I can do besides give money.

  3. and thanks for reminding me about the Lechem, Menora, and Anan. I put it into the post.