Sermon – Shoftim Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum September 10, 2005 / 6 Elul 5765
Have you ever heard the Yiddish word, mensch, and the expression to be a mensch? The way that you are nodding, I understand that almost everyone knows the meaning; to love kindness, to do good for others, to be an all around deep down good person. I was at a rabbinic convention in New York City earlier this week. I would like to share with you some insights and highlights, some that left me with mind boggling thoughts. A topic that was primarily discussed was the crisis and ramification of Hurricane Katrina and how the clergy should react. Many of my colleagues believe that the reason for Katrina was a divine reaction to sin. I heard a priest who said it was the corrupt cities of Biblical Sodom and Gemorah. Our modern day cities in New Orleans and Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, were filled with crime, prostitution, drugs, and casinos and the Almighty reacted to those sinners. I asked a fellow clergy who sat next to me, "so if I have a cousin in Las Vegas, should he feel threatened by an upcoming storm?" I thought, "how could some clergy initiate such an interpretation?" Another clergy, who was a very articulate evangelical minister said that, "the crisis of Katrina was the result of forcing the Jews out of Gaza. The Almighty One punished the American people for the sins that we have committed by sponsoring the disengagement from Gaza. Innocent, idealistic people, Jewish settlers became homeless overnight for no reason but dirty politics. Now we are to share the same sense of being homeless overnight. Again, I was concerned by this interpretation because it is an assumption that might lead to dangerous thoughts or reactions from the public. On the other hand, I heard Rabbi Bleich from New York say that, "we should not focus on the reason because the Almighty has an inscrutable will and we do not have the tools and the ability to know his will. Our call is to aid in the aftermath which is what we are doing now and how people are reacting now". The way some people have admirably reacted is called in Yiddish "mensch". People opened their hearts with tremendous generosity. Many organizations around the country have helped provide housing, education, food, and medicine. We are proud to say that the Jewish Federation in Baltimore has collected over $1 million in donations for those that have suffered from hurricane Katrina. The humanitarian assistance sends forth the heartwarming message of the value of being "mensch". The Sages tell us, everything we see and hear can have meaning to our lives and in Ethics of the Fathers, we are asked who is wise? The answer is one who learns from everyone. Every person can ask, what am I supposed to learn from Katrina? How can I be a mensch and make the world a better place to live? One lesson that we can learn from this crisis is not to take life for granted. We saw how destiny can change in a second, life can be altered for good or bad in the blink of an eye. We should continue to thank G-d everyday and to hold hands and help each other to better our futures. This is a time that we should unify and be a mensch. May G-d help all those broken hearted people to recuperate and send compassion and strength to the unsung heroes that are rescuing and sheltering the needy. May G-d send recovery, swiftly and soon, and may we never know any more sorrow.
Master of the universe, we have seen the horror-
Great devastation, Overwhelming sorrow!
Hear now your people – Homes and loved ones taken-
G-d of compassion, You who calmed the rough sea-
Hurricane crashing, we prayed for your mercy!
Comfort your people! Hold them close, now giving
Hope for their living.
Give to your children Food to end their starvation,
Clean water, News of those they long for!
And by your Spirit, Use our aid and labors
To be a mensch and to help our neighbors.
Be present, O G-d, with those who are discovering that loved ones have died, that homes and jobs are gone, those who suffer today in shelters, hot and weary from too little sleep and too much fear, those who wonder what they will find when they return to homes battered by wind and engulfed by flood. Let them know they are not alone.
Together, let us pray for:
Those who are displaced by the storm –
The families of those who perished in the storm…
For people who continue to live in shelters and with friends…
Those we who dwell in safety
May open our hearts and our treasure to those who are in need.