DAY 503: Responding to Typhoon Haiyan — The Desire and Limitations of Our Care

November 15, 2013
By bethmordecai
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DAY 503: Responding to Typhoon Haiyan — The Desire and Limitations of Our Care

“In a situation like this, nothing is fast enough. The need is massive, the need is immediate, and you can’t reach everyone.”-  Max Roxas, Interior Secretary of the Phillipines

“The international community needs to resist the urge of the savior syndrome, to come in and think they can duplicate the structures [of aid], can do better, can do without the government [of the Phillipines], because that will only worsen the response.”- Sara Pantuliano, Head of the Humanitarian Policy Group at the Overseas Development Institute

“A time of disaster is a time to help others. It is not a time to think only of self and forget others. It is a time to console and embrace our neighbors. It is a time to show a love that is stronger than an earthquake or a typhoon”– Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archdiocese of Manila

Dear Hevreh,

It seems that the aftermath of every natural disaster, from Sandy to Haiyan, includes similar tropes:

  • the devastation is immense
  • we need to work together
  • there is only so much we can do

The quotes shared above speak to these key ideas which, while common, are maddeningly insufficient at alleviating the pain of experiencing and/or witnessing a disaster like Typhoon Haiyan. As caring human beings, we feel the need to take care of one another, like Cardinal Tagle mentions above, but what do we do with the fact that despite our appetite for care, there is only so much we can actually provide?

לא עליך המלאכה לגמור ולא עתה בן חורין להבטל ממנה

Lo alekha hamlakha ligmor v’lo attah ben horin l’hibbatel mimenah

You are not required to finish the work, but neither are you allowed to desist from it

– Pirkei Avot 2:16 — פרקי אבות ב:טז

This quote from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Ancestors) gives voice to the inherent tension in wanting to help but realizing our limited capabilities to do so, a tension that we experience both when hearing of disasters abroad and suffering at home. Internalizing the quote above does not necessarily make us feel any better, but it can at least give us a container to hold that difficult feeling so that our desire to care can spur us into appropriate action.

Tonight, we will give voice to that feeling, that tension between desiring to care and realizing the limitations of our care. Please join us at 8 pm.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Ari Saks

P.S. One thing we can each do is donate to organizations who are doing critical relief work on the ground. Two of those organizations in the Jewish community are American Jewish World Service and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Please click on the links above to donate to them.


Category : Rabbi Rabbi's Journal Shabbat
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