Twice in my life I experienced an earthquake. The first time I was a young boy living in an apartment building in Washington Heights, New York City. I can still picture my bedroom shaking, the shelves rattling and the dishes in the cabinets clanking. Our apartment building was on a tall cliff, so I was afraid the whole building would collapse. The second time, I was living in Eretz Yisrael. I was learning in the Mir Yeshiva with my chavrusa, when the building started to shake and we heard a loud rumble. At first, I thought it was a terrorist bomb, but after a minute the rumbling subsided and I realized it was an earthquake.
A few years ago, the Jewish Family Services of Passaic-Clifton honored my good friends Mr. and Mrs. Dovid Goder at their annual breakfast. JFS invited a surprise guest to speak—a close rebbi of Mr. Goder, Rav Aharon Lopiansky, rosh yeshiva of Greater Washington. Rabbi Lopiansky asked the following puzzling question: “We make multiple brachos (blessings) each morning thanking Hashem for many personal gifts—sight, movement, balance, renewed strength, refreshing sleep, clothing... But one of the brachos seems out of place: “…roka ha’aretz al hamayim,” Hashem makes the ground firm on the water. This is a broad blessing to benefit the entire world, so why does each person say it after waking up in the morning?”
Rabbi Lopiansky answered that anyone who experienced an earthquake will tell you it’s a terrifying experience. A basic human need is stability and security. When something as basic as the ground below our feet is unstable, our feeling of security goes out the window. Therefore, we thank Hashem each morning for making the ground stable and for providing many forms of stability in our personal lives.
Parshas Eikev opens with the words “V’haya eikev tishma’un es hamishpatim ha’eileh—It will be when you listen to these ordinances…” Rashi notes the Torah’s atypical usage of the word Eikev (when). The word Eikev also means “heel,” alluding to mitzvos that people “trample upon,“ that is, those mitzvos that seem of minor importance. As a reward for observing all mitzvos as important ones, Hashem promises material blessings and children.
The mention of one’s feet in that first sentence can also be viewed as referring to the fact that our heels plant us firmly on the ground. Similarly, the minute details of every mitzvah were given to us by Hashem to anchor us spiritually. Details matter. When we relate to mitzvos with this attitude of observing the details, then we are standing firmly in our relationship with Hashem.
Over the last few months our world has been shaken, from the collapse of the Surfside towers, the Meron tragedy and the bleachers in the Karlin Stolin shul in Givat Ze’ev on Erev Shavuos. Just last week, North Jersey was hit with sudden severe thunderstorms. My block lost power for eight hours. The rain came down so fast, there were flash floods. All the underpasses in Passaic were flooded. A friend’s car got stuck and was destroyed by the flood waters. These events remind us that our assumptions about stability can change in the blink of an eye. We need to recognize that stability and security come from Hashem and nothing can or will happen to someone if Hashem does not want it to.
Our area also had a violent storm last year. I noted several miracles during that storm. My neighbor’s car was parked underneath a tree, so he moved it to his driveway. Ten minutes later, the tree came crashing down on that very spot where the car had been. The opposite happened with another friend. He had all his cars in his driveway and decided to move them to the street. A few minutes later, a huge limb of a tree fell exactly on the spot where his three cars were originally parked. And another neighbor had a massive oak tree fall across his entire backyard, miraculously missing his house.
Every morning in Pesukei D’zimra we say, “ruach sa’arah oseh devaro—the stormy tempest does the will of Hashem.” The message is clear: we are not in control. Only Hashem is in control, and if we place our reliance on Him and pray to Him, Hashem can grant us a feeling of stability and security.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.