The frightful news and images emerging from the Philippines depict a disaster of epic proportions. The massive typhoon — one of the most devastating storms in recorded history — produced 20-foot walls of seawater that tossed ships inland and swept many residents out to sea.
Entire neighborhoods have been decimated. It is feared that the death toll will surpass 10,000 victims, including the elderly and the young, fathers, mothers, grandparents and tiny infants.
Acting on the dire warnings of meteorologists, authorities evacuated some 800,000 people ahead of the typhoon, but in the end, many of the evacuation centers failed to protect against the wind and rising water.
We extend our deep condolences to the people and government of the Philippines on the terrible loss of life and property. We urge the international community to increase deliveries of desperately needed aid and do everything possible to be of assistance to the survivors and to bury the dead.
At the same time, it is imperative that we not delude ourselves into believing that this colossal tragedy — which occurred more than 8,000 miles from the eastern coast of the United States — does not directly relate to us.
More than 90 years ago, when devastating earthquakes killed tens of thousands in Japan, the Chofetz Chaim undertook a partial fast and urged Klal Yisrael to do teshuvah. Two years later, when a powerful earthquake hit Russia, destroying entire cities and causing many fatalities, the Chofetz Chaim wrote a powerful letter about it.
“Certainly, any thinking person should be gripped by fear and trembling as to what Hashem has done to us. The One Who is good and does good to all is merciful to all His creations, and does not even desire the death of the wicked, as it says: ‘By My life, says Hashem, I do not desire the death of the wicked one, but rather that he repent and live’ (Yechezkel 33). The understanding person will realize that Hashem is urging us to do teshuvah and is showing us all that He has the power to do as He pleases, and none of His creations of Above or below can tell Him what to do. And it is clear to me that if we had prophets sent from Hashem, they would, without doubt, be standing guard to urge Jews to do teshuvah to our Father in Heaven. Because, with our evil deeds, we have no prophets or divine messengers in our times, He is urging us through other messengers to do teshuvah, as it says: ‘He makes winds His messengers; burning fire His servants…’”
These piercing words of the Chofetz Chaim speak for themselves.