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Where is God When Tragedy Strikes?

09/12/2016 09:37:48 PM

Sep12

Rabbi Cove

Monday, September 12th, 2016

On a plaque in the museum to memorialize the events on September 11 2001 the following is written: “remember the days after September 11 when we came together as one, on the worst day we have experienced as Americans. It brought out the best in ourselves.”
 
Across the country, fellow Americans watched in horror as the towers collapsed, we cried as we witnessed many leap out of the towers to their deaths, escaping the flames and smoke. We listened in shock to the voices from the towers as the trapped told their families one last time how much they loved them. We all felt a mix of grief, sorrow, fear and anger. And then came feelings of pride and unity that arose from the flames.
 
Indeed, September 11th 2001 and the days afterward, will be remembered as a time when extraordinary heroes, disguised as ordinary people emerged out of the darkness. These courageous responders taught us that spirit and soul are unbreakable. In the subsequent 15 years many inspiring accounts have surfaced about people – like you and me who lived the words of the Psalmist: “they pass through a valley of tears and converted it into a life giving fountain” (Psalm 84:7)
 
One example is Welles Crowther, a hero among us. It was not Welles Crowther’s job to save anyone’s life on September 11. He worked as an equities trader on the 104th floor of the South Tower. When the disaster’s struck, Welles sprung into action. According to first-hand accounts, “out of nowhere, a young man burst in and took control. In a strong authoritative voice, he directed the injured to the stairway – which was veiled by the darkness, and debris”. According to Judy Wein, who credits him with saving her life. “I remember seeing this incredible hero, running back and forth and saving the day. It was as if he had a duty to do – to save people. He is definitely my guardian angel – no if’s, ans or buts – because without him I would not be sitting here.” Crowther has been credited with saving at least 18 lives that day. He exited and returned into the building at least three times. He ultimately perished when he entered the building one last time before it collapsed. His body was recovered alongside several firefighters on March 19 2002.
 
Whether they were professionally trained first respondents or, others just going about their daily routines, I am in awe of those who chose to run towards the injured and dead instead of running away to safety. Their acts of heroism helps to restore my hopes in humanity. I believe that these brave souls serve as evidence that G-d was present during that tortuous time.
 
According to Rabbinic interpretation, when we care for others in moments of profound danger and pain we walk in G-d’s ways and act on God’s behalf. What the Rabbis seem to suggest based on the Talmudic passage from Sotah 14a, compassion, support, encouragement, and life-saving attempts offered on behalf of the vulnerable and weak are true expressions of our religious faith and spirituality.
Faced with a situation that makes us stare our own vulnerability in the face, most of us naturally want to flee. This is Judaism’s message to us: if you want to serve G-d, run towards the very people and places you want to run away from. If you want to be religious, learn to be present for other people when they are in pain. G-d is the power that helps us bring the good out of the bad.
 
In the 15 years that have passed, memorials have been established in Manhattan, the Pentagon, Schwenksville Pennsylvania, and in cities and towns around the country. Each, in their own way, offering evidence to the destructive forces humans can unleash against each other and at the same time showing the great acts of self-sacrifice of which we are capable.
 
It is my hope that each of us will be living testimony to the humanity and godliness demonstrated by the heroes of 9/11. May we carry on their example of courage, compassion, and caring. We can pay them no greater tribute for the blessings they provided. And we can offer G-d no greater gift either.
 
What about you? What is the lesson that came out of the events of September 11, 2001 for you?
Mon, 18 March 2019