Posted in Rabbi Marchuck's Blog, on November 29, 2012

Oil and Water Don’t Mix

What a month it has been.

A massive Superstorm, a presidential election, and a war in Israel—November 2012 is one for the books!

I live in the Five Towns/ Far Rockaway community and my office is as far downtown in Manhattan as you can get. My regular Sunday biking route is along a boardwalk that is now a pile of splintered wood, and from the windows of the NCSY/OU offices I can easily see the spot where the news reporters broadcasted during the moments before Sandy struck lower Manhattan. In other words, both my personal and business environments got slammed!

Multitudes of people incurred tens of thousands of dollars worth of damages due to Hurricane Sandy. Dozens of them are NCSY alumni. One alumnus that I bumped into at a shelter was looking for replacement clothing for her children and began to cry as she explained to me that “Possessions that took me years to obtain, only took seconds to lose.”  Last week after the immediate shock had worn off, but while she still had no idea when she would be able to move back into her home, she gallantly assured me that she knows “it’s just stuff and B”H, we are all okay.”

Rabbi Jon Green, Director of NCSY Camp Sports and an alumnus from Atlantic Seaboard region, shared an experience that he had in the post hurricane clean up with me. Rabbi Green, who is also the Director of Student Activities at a yeshiva day school in the New York area, brought a group of his students to volunteer in a community clean-up in Seagate, Brooklyn. He and his team of 11th grade boys were randomly sent to the home of a woman in her mid-sixties whose home and possessions were decimated. She requested that the volunteers work on the removal of water logged sefarim (Jewish books) from her home. During this “fire-line” removal of her books, she looked up at Rabbi Green and said “I am so happy this happened to me!” Jon and his students looked at her in bewilderment, and she explained to them that “If it were not for this experience, I would have never have known how good klal Yisroel (the Jewish people) is.” That is a lesson that these students would never have learned in their regular classroom that day.    

Millions of people lived without power for weeks this past month and many homes still do not have their power restored. During the time the power was out, it was difficult to live in and deal with the darkness and cold. Daylight hours, batteries, heat, refrigeration, gasoline, phone usage, all the items that we assume are always readily available, became valued and appreciated commodities in a completely new way.

Now Chanukah is fast approaching. The victory of the Jews over the Greeks, and Torah over the mundane, is really the victory of light over darkness. The darkness cast by the Greeks imprisoned us with  a life without the Ohr HaTorah (the light of the Torah). The Torah that we learn and live our livesby is the guiding light towards our understanding of life itself. The Menorah, which symbolizes the learning of Torah, is lit each of the eight nights of Chanukah. These tiny flames have the ability to break through the blanket of darkness that surrounds us. The period that so many of us lived in darkness reminded us of the pure oil that is the Jewish people. The unbelievable chessed (kindness/volunteerism/charity) that exploded from the Jewish community saw no bounds. Families were inviting other familiesto live with them for weeks at a time! The food, clothing, and charity being sent from communities near and far was, and continues to be, unbelievable! There are busloads of people coming into the affected areas every weekend from New Jersey, Monsey, Brooklyn and Maryland, eager to get their clothes dirty in order to help Jews they have never even met restore normalcy and put their lives back together.

The Rabbis teach us that the best fuel to use for the Chanukah menorah is pure olive oil. However, the only way to get the oil out of the olive is by squeezing it. The finest and purest oil of the Jewish people was “squeezed” out this past month in the wake of the water that Sandy delivered; the oil rose to the top and separated from Sandy’s destructive waters.

Our hearts and prayers are with our brothers and sisters in our homeland, Israel. May Hashem (G-d) bring peace to our land and may we join them soon.

Have a great and illuminating Chanukah!

Rabby Yeshoshua Marchuck