This past week we joined the millions around the world whose lives have been usurped by forces beyond our control. In the context of a horrific storm – or, as in Haiti or Chile, an earthquake – free will seems almost irrelevant. After all, does one small personal choice really matter when the ground is literally pulled from beneath your feet?
Interviewed for this week’s cover story, area rabbis waxed philosophical about the mysteries of life. But whether God works in our lives directly – through a plan we can only vaguely discern – or God’s presence is reflected in the way we live our lives and treat others, each of these rabbis was clear in affirming that what we do matters.
This week, we are preparing for Passover. For some, this will be especially difficult, given the extent of the damage wrought by the recent storm. For those who lost family, it will be especially painful, and what should be a joyful celebration of freedom will inevitably be colored by their sorrow.
While we cannot prevent disasters from occurring, we can control our response. Passover is a time to celebrate the liberation of the Jewish people. Over the years, as a people and as individuals, there have been times when we did not feel much like celebrating. This year may be such a time in our community. Still, for our own healing – and for the health of the entire Jewish community – it behooves us to remember that we have lived through horrors before, and survived.
It is said that talmudic scholar and rabbi (later apostate) Elisha ben Abuya renounced his faith when he saw an innocent boy die in the performance of a mitzvah. While it makes for compelling reading (see “As a Driven Leaf” by Milton Steinberg), it is an extreme response. It would have been better, as suggested by one of our local rabbis, to offer comfort and support to the parents of the boy than to use the occasion to construct a philosophical paradigm.
Fortunately, members of our community demonstrated such compassion in the face of last week’s loss. Let us continue to show that strength and resilience as we approach the holiday.