Floating Above Hurricane Michael
It was exactly 50 years ago to this very day, the first day of Chesvan, 1968. The Lubavitcher Rebbe was giving a very special talk on Parshas Noach. In the audience was a Shaliach/Chabad Ambassador who had gone to a very, very difficult place so that he could bring help to the people there. That was to be his mission.
But he experienced tremendous financial challenges, the work was just not going as it should, he couldn’t communicate with the people, everything seemed to be working against him. It was a dangerous Muslim country that didn’t appreciate having a Rabbi lead the few Jews that remained. This young Rabbi struggled but could not bring himself to continue. In the end, he returned to New York, his mission unfulfilled.
On that Shabbos, during his farbrengen, the Rebbe talked about Rashi’s commentary on the words “Ach Noach.” In the ark, Noach was groaning and struggling under the great weight of caring for all the animals, feeding them, cleaning up after them, ensuring their safety as darkness filled the land and the terrifying waters raged around the ark.
He was, in effect, “spitting blood” from the severity of the work he was doing and the fatigue that was tearing him down.
The Rebbe looked around and, without naming anyone, said to the assembled crowd, “You are like Noach — the entire world is going through a mabul, a flood, and you are among the very few who merited to be saved on the ark. Despite the fact that you have the merit to be on the boat in the middle of this great flood, you are groaning and complaining.”
The Rebbe then said, “You have a headache, take an aspirin.”
For the Rebbe, being able to help people was all that mattered. If you encountered difficulties, you persevered, you carried on, because that is what you should do, because you are fortunate, you are blessed to be able to do this holy, desperately needed work to save the world.
Now it is exactly 50 years later to the very day and the parsha of Noach is again being read.
And with the great flood described in the parsha, Hurricane Michael — a category 4 storm — was bearing down on parts of the southern US, threatening a modern-day mabul that would devastate the area.
Another young Chabad Rabbi and his wife — Rabbi Mendel and Nechama Danow — were just moving into their new home in Pensacola, Florida.
He is from Sweden. She is from Israel. Hurricanes were not even part of their vocabulary, certainly not part of their experiences.
While others were fleeing to safety, they knew what they had to do, they knew why they were there, they knew nothing would stop them, not even a hurricane, let alone a hurricane of monstrous proportions.
They hadn’t even unpacked yet. They raced out to their local stores for supplies. They got gas for their car, schlepped case after case of water, bought every flashlight and battery they could get their hands on, and all the food they could find. They had never prepared for a hurricane, but they used their common sense and brought everything they thought would help.
“We’ve come here and we’re here to stay, and we’re here to help out the local community with whatever they need on a physical level and spiritual level,” Rabbi Danow said. “We were planning on moving into town, taking a couple weeks to get settled in. We were planning on taking our time, but it seems like G-d really wants us to start our communal work right away.”
They opened their home to anyone in need. They cooked and provided food and water and shelter. They comforted people and did everything they could under the most trying circumstances. Their own comfort took second place. They were “spitting blood” because other people’s pain and needs became their very own.
The Rebbitzen said, “This is the whole reason we came — to be here not just in easy times, but to be here when we are needed and to give help to others.”
After things had settled down a little bit, Rabbi Danow jubilantly exclaimed, “We are so glad we got here just in time for Hurricane Michael.” Fifty years later, no one is abandoning their ark, their sacred outpost — because the Danows were on a mission that floated well above their own challenges.
The takeaway from all this: when you are on a mission to save the world, you have been specially selected for a special job and you have to be prepared to sacrifice. You have a job to do and it is up to you to do it, not to groan or complain, but realize that you are the modern day Noachs who the world is rooting for to succeed.
This is the message the Lubavitcher Rebbe expressed 50 years ago to the very day, a message that resonates every single day from then to today. We have to be prepared to do the job we are given, no matter how hard or frustrating — giving up is simply not an option.
Rabbi Areyah Kaltmann is the Executive Director of Chabad Columbus.