I was sitting in a restaurant in Augusta, Georgia, when someone from Hilton Head Island recognized me and quipped, “Rabbi, four years in a row we have faced hurricanes. What kind of record is that? I guess that is the price we pay for living in Paradise.”
I nodded my head respectfully in response to the person’s observation. I also pondered it for a while that day. Is this person correct? Is this part of the new reality of living on Hilton Head?
I hope that the answer is no to this person’s question.
Whether or not this is a result of global warming and climate change — no matter what the causes may be — we have a different kind of challenge. We have a spiritual challenge here, which tests our mettle, and it is not praying that God will refrain from sending any more hurricanes or storms to us like in Genesis.
I do not believe that God sends hurricanes or floods as a way of punishing us. There is here an ongoing test for us, which is how we cope in the aftermath of this kind of storm. What is that test?
Remember the old adage: “Pray as if everything depended on God. Act as if everything depended on you.”
What shall we pray for? Pray to God for the strength to rebuild. Pray to God for the resolve to help others.
In my tradition, we have a statement from the Talmud that says, “If I am not for myself who then will be for me? If I am only for myself then what am I? If not now, when?”
Now has arrived again.
We know how vulnerable we are and helpless to determine the aftereffects of Dorian’s trek through our community. Yet, we are not helpless to make a difference in other people’s lives. We are strong and resilient to reach out and to lend a helping hand. Sometimes it is just a kind word or checking in on our neighbor or members of our church or synagogue.
The devastation we witnessed with Hurricane Mathew hopefully taught us lessons about what makes Beaufort County a blessed place and a paradise too. Of course we must tend to our own responsibilities for our property, but, do not turn a blind a eye to our neighbor either.
We also have an obligation to see the suffering of others in the aftermath of Dorian, such as the people of the Bahamian Islands. The complete devastation we have witnessed there is truly catastrophic and supporting their recovery would be another way we can do the holy work God wants from us.
We can also pray for those in public service, such as our elected leaders and the staff of the towns, fire departments, police, medical services and our residential staffs, who have given 100 percent for us. We have high expectations that they will do everything in their power to address the challenges of repair and cleanup. They too deserve our prayers, as they complete those tasks of protecting and restoring our cherished way of life. They too might very well appreciate a kind word and encouragement too.
If there is one lesson we can learn from the Noah story it is the idea of stewardship.
Noah was the steward for human and all animal life. He dutifully followed God’s instructions and built the ark and set sail for 40 days and 40 nights. Noah did not argue with God as to whether God’s intentions were just or not. We see how Noah’s stewardship, his commitment to saving the animals and his own family set down a standard that we too are stewards of Creation.
Are we not stewards of the community we live in? Are we not stewards with the duty to protect animal life and the environment of our habitat? I suppose that Paradise does exact a price because it does not come easy as we learn time and again to preserve the environs both physical and spiritual in our community.
When Moses was about to transfer his authority to Joshua, he said, “Be strong and have courage.”
This message applies to us now more than ever before.
May it be God’s will that we demonstrate our strength and courage to face with dignity and humanity the challenges of Hurricane Dorian. It is the cost of living in Paradise and it is a cost we can accept.