What do firemen and rabbis have in common? They both put out fires. The recent catastrophe taking place in our sunshine state of California makes me wonder what G‑d is up to. What message can He be conveying and what lesson can be learned? One thing I know for sure is that it is the clergyman’s job to do and not ask. As one rabbi put it “We only work here, we don’t make the catastrophes. 

Amidst the sorrow and hardship the world continues to turn. The World Series begins and the Boston Red Sox win the first game. It was the most exciting game in the 104 years history of the World Series. China embarks on a ten year moon exploration program and launches its first lunar probe. In Jakarta, Indonesia a powerful earthquake rocked western Indonesia sending panicked residents fleeing from their homes and briefly triggering a tsunami warning. In Cape Canaveral, Florida the Shuttle Discovery and its crew of seven went into orbit to do extensive work on the space station. 

While here in California the only comforting words from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff while addressing a crowd was, “Take a moment to hug and kiss your loved ones. Everything else can be replaced.” How condescending and inconsiderate are his sentiments? Imagine telling five hundred thousand people to kiss and make up as if the trauma will just disappear along with the smoke and fire. Chertoff’s statement is childish and totally out of character. 

The clergy have stepped up to the plate in Running Springs, California. There the fire has erupted with a fierce vengeance, burning homes and businesses and leaving chaos, destruction, and despair. All the residents have been evacuated and the brave firemen and sheriffs are busy coordinating fire fighting crews to save as much as possible. We wonder where they can find a place to rest their weary bodies, or for that matter, where can they get hot coffee or fresh food? Last but not least, where does the water come from to fight the fires?

At Kiryas Schneerson, Running Springs, the Panikoff Center of Love and Kindness, A center named after the Chabad leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Rabbi Yosef Brod made a decision. He was going to stay at the center. It has become a salvation and sanctuary for the brave fire fighters and officers. Kiryas Schneerson is surrounded by fire and yet the rabbi persists, serving meals and drinks. He mans a 24 hour generator, fills the swimming pool with their well water, signals the helicopter to pick up and replenish their water supply. Kiryas Schneerson has become a sanctuary for survival, a temporary home for our fire fighters. It would seem that this marriage, firemen and clergy, would not work as firemen work for the physical and the clergy for the spiritual, but miraculously the center remains open and offering a place to eat and rest. The harmony of physical and spiritual meet and coalesce all religions working together to save homes.

More rabbis drove up the mountain to help and support Rabbi Brod in his most extraordinary and brave work. Tragedies bring misery and at times bring out the best of people. At this time of overwhelming tragedies we must reach out and touch somebody by extending time, effort, and moral spiritual support. The best thing you can do is be positive and charitable. We salute all the brave people involved but most of all we pray for the welfare of all our citizens of this wonderful state.

The motto of our country is “In G‑d we trust” and it is the job of the clergymen to help that trust be realized.