Excavating the Rubble of the Champlain Towers

Excavating the Rubble of the Champlain Towers

The world, and certainly the Jewish world is reeling due to the story of the Champlain tower collapse in Surfside. I have not shared any public thoughts until now since the words “vayidom Aharon” and “Aaron was silent” after the devastating news of his sons’ premature demise are often the only reaction one can have.

(In Hebrew you can say sheket which means silent, and vayidom – from the root domem – means absolute silence like that of a rock which is domem – inanimate – meaning sometimes you cannot say words, you can only love, hug and pray and not be Gd’s attorney to explain away the pain of tragic life events.)

Today I heard a class by Rabbi YY Jacobson, on the www.TheYeshiva.net – here is the specific class https://theyeshiva.net/jewish/8154 based on the personal journal entries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe from more than 70 years ago before he was the Rebbe (Reshimos, Pamphlet 15), ideas he shared at an informal farbrengan at the Lubavitch Yeshiva in Riga where he was visiting his father in law – Rebbe Rayat’s. I am going to try to summarize this class as succinctly as possible. 

It is eerie how prescient that talk was, and how it coincides with the “daf yomi” talmud cycle that will be studying these laws in the Tractate Yoma in just a few short days.

The Talmud relates a scenario where there is a “collapse” of a building which creates a pile of rubble, and it is shabbat when it is normally forbidden to touch or move rocks and rubble. May one move the rubble if there is potential life in the rubble?
The Talmud debates and concludes that you may move the rubble on Shabbat:

  • Regardless if you are sure or unsure if there is even anyone buried in the rubble.
  • Regardless if you are unsure if the person that “may” in the rubble is alive or dead.
  • Regardless if the person who “may” be in the rubble and is “possibly alive” is a Jew or a gentile.

Basically, if there is any chance that there is life there, you must focus on the possibility of life over the regulations of Shabbat. It so happens that the rescue workers in Miami are doing just that. (In fact I read that some Israeli rescue workers refused free hotel rooms, choosing to tent on the site so as not to lose a minute of rescue work, only taking the minimal amount of time needed to rest so they can continue their efforts.)

The Rebbe then relates that every law and idea in the Torah has a spiritual, psychological, emotional and practical application. What is the practical application of these ideas? They seem to be dated laws that may have no relevance to the average person. He delves in and explains as follows.

A building represents orderliness and purpose. A structure has a purpose, a place, things belong, they make sense. For building to exist there are strict rules and engineering guidelines that must be followed or Gd forbid the worst can happen. 

A collapsed building – which is a pile of rubble – represents the notion that things in the world are random and arbitrary. That there is not “owner to this edifice” called life and existence. That there isn’t a distinct purpose, reason or rhyme to every single element of life. 

“The world is a mirror of a person, and a person is a mirror of the world.”

Everything on this planet is intentional and by design and serves a purpose (whether we see/know it or not). “This is a fact for anyone honestly who seeks to know this truth” The sun that warms the seas that creates vapor into clouds, and winds that move those clouds so the rains ingested from the seas, pour back onto habitable land. If that sun was just a bit further away, the cooler temperatures would not allow this to be. If they were a bit closer, the heat would be unbearable. Every bit of it is timed to perfection and one slight variation would throw it all off kilter and the world would not be able to exist. This process has many more layers to it, but suffice it to say that there is nothing random or arbitrary about anything on earth. Science confirms what the Jewish faith system beleives.

However, there are those that view the world as random and arbitrary and there isn’t a master puppeteer running every single element of existence. “Those people take this edifice and turn it into a pile of rubble.” A collapsed heap of rubble. A building that has collapsed.

The Rebbe is saying that if you are seeking truth, you will find a building – a world – that is built with the utmost extreme intentionality. If you are intellectually lazy, you submit to yourself the distasteful falsehood that the world is a random and arbitrary pile of happenstance. A pile of rubble. 

This is our job, to sift through the rubble and find the life within it and bring it to it’s truthful awareness that everything is by Divine orchestration and nothing is per-chance. For our own internal rubble and the rubble of those around us. To bring this awareness to ourselves and others.

This is the deeper meaning of the questions the Talmud was asking.

The rubble of life represents what appears to be the chaos of existence and the anxiety and uncertainty that it brings along with it. How do we address this in ourselves and others? We must “sift through the rubble.” The word that the Talmud uses for sifting in this case is “mifakchin es Hagal.” This means more than sifting but like the word pokeach – it means to open the eyes of and enlighten those struggling with the rubble.

When must I do this? Always! Even on Shabbos…:

ONE: “Regardless if you are sure or unsure there is even anyone buried in the rubble.” 

There are people who you are unsure if the “rubble of life” even buries them. Are they impacted by it? This can be either because they transcend it by their spiritual aloofness, or by escaping it with unhealthy distractions such as phones, mind altering substances or simply by ignoring these soul crushing- anxiety-rubble-related- questions. Regardless if you are sure that someone is in the rubble, or you yourself are in the rubble,  you must engage in searching through it, even on Shabbos. 

It is too critical to our existence to ignore the potential mistaken understanding that this world operates in an arbitrary auto-pilot manner.

TWO: Regardless if you are sure if the person in the rubble is alive or dead. 

The verse states “and you who cling to the L-rd, are considered alive.” There are some of us who while physically alive are spiritually dead. We don’t live in accordance with our truest reality. We deny our own truth and attempt to live in perpetual denial. “They might be dead…”  Others are alive but they are struggling. They are overwhelmed by the anxiety and uncertainty of Gd, purpose and existence itself. “They may be alive…” They too need to be sifted for in the rubble.

THREE: Regardless if the person who may be in the rubble is possibly alive is a Jew or a gentile. 

There are those who while they are struggling are perhaps not living in accordance with the holy standards of the “Master of the building” they still are connected to the “source of living waters.” While they are not observing today they haven’t severed their connection and don’t view themselves as disconnected. “Even though they sin, they are (still) a Jew.”

Others are so frustrated and distraught by the struggle that they have severed the connection, they feel completely alienated and out of the family. They perceive themselves as “a gentile.”

Regardless, we have a mission that transcends the holiness of Shabbos to search through the rubble and fan the flames of love and connection even to those souls. To do everything within our power to “clear the rubble” that is attempting to smother their soul.

There are no answers. We cannot attempt to understand Gd’s ways. What we can do, as we have done time and time again as a people and as individuals, is rather than let a life and world that comes crashing down on us threatening to suffocate us, we can instead try to excavate the the lessons buried within and renew our commitment to the Almighty and humbly accept that He is not a deadbeat landlord, but that he is in fact still running this show intentionally. Even when every fiber of our being feels that it is all 100% wrong.

May Gd comfort all those that have perished in this tragedy and make miracles that are beyond our belief. Bring us the coming of Moshiach when our loved ones will be returned to us! AMEN!


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