When the Earth Rumbles

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Once again, we are reeling from an unfathomable tragedy.

This time it took place on American soil, in the town of Surfside, Florida, near Miami. Residents of a 12-story condominium complex had gone to sleep on Wednesday night without an inkling that anything was amiss. At about 1:30 a.m., a wing of the structure suddenly collapsed. As the terrible news — and horrifying images — began to rapidly spread, the anxious wait for word about survivors began. As hours turned into days, desperate family members from all over the world continued to hope for a miracle, and pleaded that the masses of Yidden davening on behalf of the victims continue.

As these words are being written, a number of bodies have been pulled from the rubble, and so many more are still unaccounted for. Our thoughts and hearts are with the families of the known victims, may Hashem give them comfort and consolation. For all those who are still experiencing the incomprehensible agony of waiting to hear of the fate of their family members, may the Al-mighty grant them the strength they need at this most difficult time, and may their tefillos — along with those of all of Am Yisrael — be heard.

In a touching exhibition of mi k’amcha Yisrael, the Jewish community in South Florida has mobilized for relief. The shul that serves Surfside and Bal Harbour has coordinated a supply collection for the steady stream of donated supplies, from mattresses to baby food, for the many families that are now homeless and have been staying in the winter homes of others in the community, or have been put up in hotels.

Help and assistance came from all directions, including from Israel and Mexico, and continues to come.

Along with being mishtatef with the pain of those directly affected by this tragedy, we must also be cognizant of the reality that, once more, all of us are being sent a powerful message, one that we dare not ignore.

It is important for officials to investigate any structural damage that existed before the collapse, and to ascertain whether other buildings are in need of urgent repairs. This is something that should be left to the appropriate governmental authorities. For us as individuals, it is paramount that we don’t let the temporal how and why distract us from the message that any tragedy sends us.

The Rambam in the beginning of Hilchos Taanis warns us that when Hashem sends us misfortunes we must be careful not to say that they are minhago shel olam — part of the natural order of the world. Rather, we must engage in cheshbon hanefesh and teshuvah.

As this most recent tragedy has so painfully reminded us, we never know what will happen next in our lives. In the minds of many, the safest place they could possibly be is in the comfort of their own home, away from large crowds or perceived dangers. Yet, as we saw last Wednesday night, from whatever is preordained, there is no possible escape.

Only the Ribbono shel Olam can protect us and guard us, and though mortals may undertake all sorts of hishtadlus, our safety and security are ultimately in the Hands of Hashem.