Evolution took a very long time, but it bequeathed us remarkable qualities and incredible traits that are unparalleled.
Yes, we share 99 percent of our DNA with the chimpanzee, but what is embedded within the 1 percent is astounding. We don’t gobble up bananas and swing from trees, but compose symphonies, paint masterpieces and look to the galaxies. Whether science or faith, the difference between us and the rest of the animal kingdom is a remarkable sense of being.
A cow, a gazelle and an eagle are confined and defined from birth to death by an immutable biology. They do not grow in soul or donate blood to the ailing. They do not build towering edifices or discover cures for afflictions.
They and their extended mishpacha in all of Earth’s habitats care only about eating, reproducing and surviving. They have instincts but no wisdom. Moods but no empathy. Intelligence but no diplomas.
Though in today’s absurdist world of pathological equality we have morons who see no difference between Einstein and Mr. Ed, we know better. Einstein ponders the cosmos, while Mr. Ed eats grain.
Unlike any other living creature, we reflect on self. Our heartbeat. Our mortality. Our legacy. Our place in the universe.
We dream. We create. We love. And when we depart, we leave behind an altered world.
But what we also do with divine majesty is step beyond who we are. We see what is beyond our eyes. We hear what is beyond our ears. We feel what is beyond our heart. We dwell in the local and in the faraway.
The catastrophes of Harvey and Irma and the staggering destruction of great cities in but a few days are unimaginable. Mother Nature’s shock and awe render us numb, speechless and distraught.
The cold irony of a Central Africa suffering from hideous drought and an American South drowning confuses us. But we do not click to another channel or turn to the sports page. We do not retreat into the unflooded rooms of our home. We do not utter lame clichés as we make dinner reservations and declare, ‘There but for the grace of G-d go I.”
The righteous human being sees around the corner and beyond the horizon. Catastrophes test the human spirit, and in Houston, Miami and beyond, we are rising to levels of nobility. We weep for strangers and provide for them. We mourn for the victims and pray for them. We reach deep into our pockets to help the unknown who suffer in the anonymous distance.
To be sure, there are many chimps among us who care nothing of others and yawn at their misery, dismissing with a cold heart their misfortune. But G-d bless those who sob for the remote calamities of others and recognize that we are all bonded in a paradox of responsibility.
Differences are shed. Sleeves rolled up as the best of us do for others.
The good Lord perched on high looks down with holy sadness as a soulless nature brings down havoc upon His innocent children. But His spirits are lifted by the magnificence of love, sweat and tears on display in the ravaged places below. A smile creeps across the Almighty’s face as He bears witness to an extraordinary benevolence tucked into the 1 percent.
A cynical hasid once approached his rebbe and asked, “What makes us better than the doe that cares for her fawn or the ewe that cares for her lamb?” The rebbe replied, “The difference is that though we live in Minsk, we give tzedakah in Pinsk.”
Harvey and Irma have unleashed the worst in nature but the best in humanity. We should be proud.
Rabbi Shalom Lewis serves Congregation Etz Chaim (www.etzchaim.net)