by Chaskel Bennett
It was 1993 and today few remember the first attack on the World Trade Center when extremists detonated a bomb laden vehicle in the lower level of the underground garage. Though there was a tragic loss of life, minimal structural damage was sustained by the towers themselves, and few long- term safeguards were implemented at that time to protect and solidify the Twin Towers from future attack.
Fast forward a few short years to September 11 2001, when a small group of Islamic terrorists brazenly attacked the same World Trade Center, hijacking humanity and placing America on a war footing not seen since the attack on Pearl Harbor. As a veteran Hatzoloh first responder at Ground Zero whose personal safety was put in jeopardy on that fateful morning, I have been forever impacted by those events and wish to again publically thank Hashem for His kindness bestowed upon me and my fellow Hatzoloh members.
The terror attacks of 9/11 sent a shudder through the heart of the nation and brought downtown Manhattan, a symbol of American dominance, to a crashing halt. The collapse of the towers, in our own backyard, killed thousands of innocent people and created a financial catastrophe from which NYC and indeed the nation has not yet fully recovered.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that the tenth anniversary of the terror attacks coincide in the shadows of what might turn out to be a “historic” hurricane on that very same eastern seaboard. As religious Jews, our understanding of global events must always be viewed through the prism of the Torah and Daas Chachomim.
A famous story comes to mind about the Chofetz Chaim. When informed about a foreign war involving two powerful countries, the holy Chofetz Chaim living in Radin, Poland was reported to have said “I’m not sure what this has to do with Klal Yisroel but our mesorah teaches us that ALL events that take place across the world occur to influence and affect the Jewish people.” Continued the tzadik, “I haven’t yet figured out what the Indo-China war has to do with us, but it does, and we must pay attention to it and do teshuva.”
Our Sages teach us that thunder; lightning and environmental events are earthly signs from heaven meant to instill a feeling of trepidation and teshuva/ repentance in our hearts. The Seforim tell us that warning signs from heaven abound and every day events shouldn’t be casually relegated to simple happenstance. There are times that tragedy and strife are brought upon the world to influence and awaken Klal Yisroel from its deep slumber.
Unlike others, this writer does not pretend to have any special insight or knowledge of Hashem’s plans but with all of the upheaval and instability that has been happening locally and globally, how can one not ask himself, “What is the King of all Kings trying to tell us?”
The Neviim, and Chachomim, that Hashem gifted to Klal Yisroel as mentors, teachers and guides throughout the Millennia, were endowed with a special Siyata D’shmaya with an ability to interpret the events of the day. Every generation since their departure, has grappled with the loss of those irreplaceable leaders. Their timeless message though, remains fresh and relevant even in our own dark days- Shuva Yisroel Ad Hashem Elokecha- return O Israel To Hashem Your G-d.
Throughout the generations, our Gedolim have presented varying opinions and methods on how one should respond to tragedy. The common thread that runs consistently through centuries of this sagely guidance was and is the requirement to subjugate ourselves towards heaven and seek to recalibrate our spiritual compass.
No stronger example is required than the painful and recent murder of Leiby Kletzky A”H which brought thousands of fellow Jews together united in grief; all searching for guidance, and comprehension to an irrational and incomprehensible incident. Though different approaches to personal improvements were suggested and encouraged by various Torah authorities, the common message from all of our spiritual leaders remained the same, Shuva Yisroel. Return to Hashem.
And so when the earth shakes in a place and in a way that it never has before, it may be a good time for reflection on what Hashem wants from each of us. It might also be appropriate to remember Hashem is the King of the Universe and we should return to Him.
One can only imagine the disaster, had the tremor been a little more powerful. As reported, the Virginia earthquake registered 5.8 on the Richter scale. For reference, the Haitian earthquake that killed over 50,000 people and destroyed the island nation’s capitol city of Port Au Prince registered at 6.0.
While the quake is still in our rear view mirror, it might be proper to thank Hashem with heartfelt gratitude for sparing us any lasting damage. But let us not be naïve or shortsighted. As we digest the events of this past week and prepare to bless the new month of Elul, a powerful and destructive hurricane is barreling up the east coast and scaring even the most seasoned emergency management professionals. A state of emergency has already been declared in NYC and the surrounding Tri- State area. We must not underestimate the potential catastrophe heading our way and we should all be preparing for the worst as we hope and pray for the best. And so, while we batten down the hatches and stock up on water and batteries, we might remember the timeless words of the Navi Hoshea that has guided Klal Yisroel through the ages- Shuva Yisroel. That clarion call and subsequent actions have sustained us through our darkest hours. We might also explore looking inward more, to address our own shortcomings, and outward less, in judgment of others. Let us recommit ourselves and return to Hashem as one nation together, and make ourselves worthy of Hashem’s protection.