Looking at the pain and suffering of the people of Houston and other affected communities, I am reminded of Rav Soloveitchik's haunting reading of the story of Iyov in his classic Kol Dodi Dofek.
The Rav wonders what lesson Iyov was meant to derive from his suffering. He answers that Iyov, a wealthy individual, had technically fulfilled the mandate of giving tzedaka. But that wasn't enough: he failed to empathize more deeply with his suffering brethren, and never fully participated in the suffering of the community. Those were the lessons he needed to internalize.
The situation in Texas is grave. We need to pray on behalf of its residents and give generously to responsible groups that are coordinating with relief organizations on the ground. As I discussed with our high school students this morning, all the tzedaka we collect in the school in the coming month will be allocated to victims of flooding. All this is critically important, and requires action now.
But all that is not enough. Anytime we learn of a crisis, the Rav reminds us, we need to stop and ask ourselves a basic moral question: Is this our problem, or is it someone else's? When we know someone who has been affected, it's only natural to care more. Personally, I know many people, including two families who moved to the Houston area in the last two weeks, who now find their new homes practically underwater.
But what happens when there is a crisis and we don't know anyone who is affected? Do we take a few moments and imagine how we would feel if we and our loved ones found ourselves in the same situation?
One way to convey that authentic message of solidarity is simply to send messages of support to those in pain. I've heard from many that such messages, while they might seem trite, in fact offer tremendous strength. So many people feel alone; a small gesture reminds them that others are standing beside them.
So if you know someone, check in and see how they're doing. See if there's anything you can do to help. If you don't know anyone, there are ways to convey messages of support to members of the Houston Jewish community, including through the OU (https://www.ou.org/tehillim-chizuk-houston/).
The Rav reminds us of a fundamental moral mandate that requires real effort to internalize. Doing our best to genuinely relate to the plight of others, and extending authentic messages of solidarity, in addition to giving generously, are essential. When crisis strikes, the book of Iyov teaches, it really is our problem.