“Ask the Rabbi” column, reprinted with permission of Texas Jewish Post.
By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, DATA Rosh Kollel
Dear Rabbi Fried,
You always say there’s something to be learned from everything. What would you say can be learned from the unprecedented snow storms and power outages in Dallas?
It is true that through the lens of Torah, there are lessons to be learned from all that transpires in our lives. It doesn’t mean there’s one lesson only, nobody has a crystal ball to say “here’s what G-d is teaching us through this”. We no longer have prophets who can say “thus says G-d”, (that’s why we’re a non-prophet organization!) I can just tell you what I have been thinking about.
The beautiful message I’ve seen from our wonderful local Jewish community is that of Chesed, loving kindness. Torah teaches that difficult times are to be seen as opportunities to help others.
The Torah always teaches us to look at life and its experiences through the prism of Chesed. Our patriarch Avraham was the paragon of Chesed, both spiritually and practically. “Give… Chesed to Avraham…”, (Micah 7:12). Maimonides explains that Avraham, who was raised in a pagan society, realized there must be a G-d Who created the universe when he observed how the entire world is permeated with Chesed. He realized that which the Mishna teaches in the beginning of Tractate Avos, that one of the three pillars upon which the world stands is Chesed.
Avraham taught the lessons of Chesed to his followers and family through many examples, and by constantly discussing it. Thus, his son Isaac and grandson Jacob, although they developed their own signature traits, certainly inculcated the primary lesson of Chesed into all that they did. This is why we open the Amida prayer by invoking the names of the patriarchs and saying to G-d, “You remember the Chesed of the patriarchs…”
The sages teach that whatever qualities the patriarchs and matriarchs develop, the didn’t just advance those qualities for themselves. By developing those traits, as our forebears, they implanted them into the spiritual DNA of the Jewish people for all time.
Hence, one of the tell tail traits of the Jewish people is “gomlei chasidim“, performance of Chesed, (Talmud). It’s common in religious Jewish communities to find a list of “Gemach” organizations. “Gemach” is from the Hebrew acronym of “gemilus chesed“. Whether one needs extra dishes, work tools, extra chairs for a simcha, clothing for those who can’t afford it or a wedding dress for the bride or her family members to accompany her, we say “there’s a gemach for that!” There are many such gemachs in our own amazing Dallas Jewish community.
This concept was shown clearly in the snowstorm and power outages, where, in our community, nearly everyone who had power housed another family or families who didn’t! There were a number of people who took it upon themselves to find out who all in the community was without power and connect them to a family who does, (no pun intended), to ensure they slept in a warm bed and could have a hot cup of coffee. It was such a beautiful thing to see and participate in, and all who saw it could exclaim, “mi k’amcha Yisrael!”, who is like Your Jewish people!
One more thought came across my mind, a lesson from Tehillim, (Psalms ch. 147, recited daily in the pesukei d’zimra prayers). The subject of this chapter is the rebuilding of Jerusalem which is taking place behind the scenes throughout history. Among that mentioned, King David praises G-d for “bringing down the snow like the fleece of sheep”. What does the snow have to do with the final redemption? My mentor, R’ Shlomo Wolbe ob”m explained that King David, with his prophetic wisdom, was able to see in every snowstorm how it’s somehow leading up to our redemption!
Clearly the understanding of King David is far beyond our comprehension. Based on what we stated above, however, we could have a bit of an insight into David’s revelation. The sages tell us that the final redemption will come about through acts of kindness, (see Talmud Sanhedrin 98b). Perhaps, when we use a snow storm to perform acts of Chesed, we are helping set the stage for the final redemption!