I returned late last night from a quick trip to the Bay Area. Following a meeting with my rabbinic association in Oakland I drove to Santa Rosa to provide some assistance at Congregation Shomrei Torah which has served as an evacuation center, a soup kitchen, and for the past several days as a day camp for the children of Santa Rosa who have not yet returned to school. It was powerful and humbling to be among those who continue to serve others despite the devastating losses that they have personally endured.
Participating in their relief efforts helped make a powerful connection to a Hasidic text I learned from my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Panken. In this week’s Torah portion, Noah is considered to be a “righteous man in his generation.” What makes Noah righteous is that he listened to God. What makes him mediocre, however, is that as he built the ark he was focusing only on his own needs, not the needs of the entire community.
The Kotsker Rebbe compares (mediocre) Noah to a man in a cold home. That man has two options to get warm; he can either heat his entire home or wear a fur garment. When he heats the entire home everyone in the home benefits from the warmth. When he wears a fur garment, only he benefits. Noah is like the man who chooses to wear fur-only for his own benefit. Abraham, whom we will meet next week, and who is considered to be righteous in all generations, is like the man who heats his entire home, casting warmth onto all.
In Santa Rosa I heard stories about local civic leaders, city managers, doctors, and of course first responders who lost their homes. Yet day after day they continue to care for the people in their community who are suffering, even putting their own needs second. The extraordinary residents of this small city are providing heat for all, not just for themselves. They are caring for all who are in need, who are cold, hungry, scared and uncertain.
I caught a few glimpses of the devastation and it is hard to describe. However, I also saw hope and resilience in the members of this strong knit community, even in the faces of those who have suffered the most.
I am also proud of our community for responding so warmly and generously. On Tuesday afternoon, I put out a call asking for $25 donations to purchase Target gift cards that I would deliver to my colleague at Congregation Shomrei Torah for her to distribute. I did not expect to be delivering more than $2500 worth of gifts card to Rabbi Kramer twenty four hours later. Collectively we are providing warmth for all who are in need-for the 29 families of Congregation Shomrei Torah who lost their homes, and the many more who may not have access to resources.
My prayer for us all is that we heat our homes, instead of putting on the fur. May we bring the warmth and support of the community to all who are in need.