Dedicated to the firefighters from Israel and neighboring countries who are grappling with this epic blaze; to the families of the 41 victims who have lost their lives; to the injured fighting for their lives; to the thousands of displaced people; and to those in the Land of Israel who haven't had a drop of rain since the spring.
When a tragic disaster occurs before us, we have several instinctive responses.
First, we ask: What can I do to help?
Sometimes we can volunteer. Other times we can only send money. Of course, we can always pray.
Our first response must always be: How can I help? Judaism, as a system of thought and way of life, is built on chesed (kindness) – caring about others and taking responsibility.
The second question we usually ask is: Why did this happen?
One possible response to this question is to look for physical causes. A careless camper. An arsonist. An unprepared firefighting infrastructure. A 9-month drought that left the land dry as a tinderbox.
Examining these issues is of course an integral part of taking responsibility for what has occurred. But there is a spiritual response to the question that needs to be examined as well.
Jewish tradition states unequivocally that every physical challenge has a spiritual failure at its root.
One could consult with a prophet to interpret the spiritual root of a challenge.
In the days of the Prophets (until 6th century BCE), one could consult with a “local prophet” to interpret the spiritual root of one’s physical challenges; Jewish leaders would consult with a national prophet to interpret national crises.
Today, without prophets, our steps are less confident. We know for certain that there is a spiritual lesson amidst this tragic fire, but we cannot know for certain what that lesson is. We are left grappling for answers in the dark.
Yet the question remains: What is the Almighty’s message to us in this?
Here is one guideline that can help. Since I am not a prophet, as a rule, I can only interpret what happens to me, not what happens to you. Those directly affected by the fire are getting a different message than those witnessing the fire from afar. Every person receives his own unique message, privy only to him.
Since the Almighty’s message is tailor made for me, any casting of spiritual blame on others doesn't address the question. So after we've done everything in our power to help, we should turn the spotlight on ourselves. We need to examine our own lives and see where we need to grow, and strive to undertake a spiritual accounting. We may never fully understand the tragedy, but the personal transformation that it spurs can make a causative impact in the spiritual realms – and bring the desperately-needed rains of blessing to our parched land.
There is a truth that transcends nature, one that we cannot always fully fathom. This is the core of the Chanukah story, where the oil miraculously burned for eight days. Yes, there was certainly a physical cause of this forest fire. But a spiritually sensitive person also understands that an inscrutable Divine Hand is always present. If we can absorb that simple lesson, this horrible tragedy will have at least increased our spiritual sensitivity and connection.
Donate to help Israel and the victims:
Agudath Israel of America
42 Broadway, New York, NY 10004
Indicate that the contribution is for "Israel Fire Relief Fund"