I want to tell you about the time that I recently saw G‑d. Really. I would not lie to you in a Shul on Rosh Hashana. I truly saw Him – in all his glory.

Yes, I know the statement that “The only way to stay normal through the challenges of life is by talking to G‑d. We need to talk to G‑d. But it’s also true that if you hear G‑d talking to you, then you are not normal!”

I did not say I heard his voice calling to me from a distant mountain top. I did say I experiences a blinding vison of light descending from on high and enveloping me in this spiritual glow. But I did see Him. Many times. All in the last two weeks.

The first time I saw Him was when the meteorologists and TV reporters spent two weeks telling us with absolute certainty that we were going to get hit head on by a category 5 mother of all storms that would just totally obliterate us off the map. And then (surprise, surprise) the storm didn’t listen to the professionals in the media. Instead of slamming into us here on the east cost, Irma did the Jewish thing and went around to hit Florida from the West coast instead. Kind of like the Jews wandering thru the desert, she had to take the scenic route through the keys and around into Marco Island.

Not to be judgmental on this Day of judgment, but how these weather men get to keep their job when they get it so wrong is beside me. It’s like the girl who was a really terrible student, and one day her teacher in desperation says, “If you don’t start studying and paying attention, what kind of job do you think you ll get when you leave school?”

And the girl answered, “That’s not a problem, I want to be the weather girl on TV.”

But this is what happened. Scientists cannot control the weather, and metoerlogists have no real way of knowing at all where or what the hurricane will do. And yet, because these people need to keep their jobs, and they need to remain relevant they talk as if they know. The politicians do the exact same thing. They go on TV and give dire warnings about the need to evacuate. “Not tonight, not in an hour. You need to go right now.” They have no idea what will happen, or where the stormwill go. But they need to sound important so they talk as if they do.

And that reminds me of both a joke and of a teaching in the Talmud. (Which should I say? ... Ok, I will share both with you…)

The old Indian chief of many years passed away and his son become the new chief. It comes the autumn and the Indians come to ask their new Chief if the winter was going to be cold or not.

Being a more modern city boy who did not know the tricks of his father, was embarrassed to admit he didn’t know an answer, the chief plays it safe and replies that the winter was going to be cold and that the members of the village were to collect wood to be prepared.

That night he snuck out of the Indian village and went to a phone booth and called the National Weather Service and asked, “Is this winter to be cold?”

The man on the phone responded, “This winter was going to be quite cold indeed.”

So the Chief went back to speed up his people to collect even more wood to be prepared.

A week later, they came to ask if they had collected enough wood, so he snuck out again to call the National Weather Service, “Is it going to be a VERY cold winter?”

 “Yes”, the man replied, “it’s going to be a very cold winter.”

So the Chief goes back to his people and orders them to go and find every scrap of wood they can find.

Two weeks later, the Indians have collected more firewood then ever before and he is starting to get nervous that maybe its too much. So again he sneaks out, calls the National Weather Service “Are you absolutely sure, that the winter is going to be very cold?”

 “Absolutely” the man replies, “the Indians are collecting wood like crazy!”

And now for the Talmudic lesson from the very first page of Tractate Ta’anis. The Rabbis are discussing the blessing we say in our prayers for rain, specifically in the second blessing that describes the power and might of G‑d. Rabbi Yochanan then makes a powerful statement: When G‑d made man on the first Rosh Hashana of history, G‑d told man that the world was all his. God blessed Adam to "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the sky and over all the beasts that tread upon the earth."

However, says rabbi Yochanan, despite the fact the we have been given the keys to understanding His universe, and the wisdom to make unbelievable scientific, medical and technological breakthrough and advances, there are “Three keys the Holy One blessed be retained in His own hands and Has not entrusted to the hand of any messenger”. What are these three keys that G‑d refused to take off his keyring? “The Key of Rain, the Key of Childbirth, and the Key of the Revival of the Dead”.

In truth, the three exceptions are really one.  God held onto the ability to create life, to sustain life and resurrect life.

But what makes this insight of our rabbis nearly two thousand years ago so powerful, is how profoundly true it is even today.  With all that we can master, manipulate and control; the weather remains an enigma and a mystery.  We can identify that a catastrophic storm has formed, we can make computer models to project where the storm will go, and we can buy out every bottle of water in South Florida.

But a hurricane reminds us that G‑d is still the one in charge.

 I think of the words we said earlier this morning (and every morning)"רוח סערה עושה דברו"  “A stormy wind fulfills His word”. Nobody else, not scientists, not the Army Corp of Engineers, not even Wonder Woman can change the strength or trajectory of a hurricane. Only G‑d.

In fact, on that first day that a human walked on earth was today, 5778 years ago. Adam gathered the animals together and made a declaration that is so relevant today. These words would later become the words used by King David in Psalms 93 and recited every Friday:  "ה' מלך גאות לבש" The Lord has reigned; He has attired Himself with majesty... The world is established that it cannot be moved... the rivers have raised their voice… More than the voices of great waters and more than the mightiest breakers of the sea, is the Lord mighty on high”.

The first time I saw G‑d these last few weeks was when every hot shot on TV was forced to admit that we do not control the world. When know-it-alls were forced to admit that they cannot stop hurricanes, they can’t even predict where it will go.

I know too many who have allowed the media to become their G‑d. Those people saw long gas lines, short water supplies, and so they saw panic and desperation. I saw the Power of the Divine Creator and Heavenly Director of the Universe. I saw G‑d.

 

The truth is that after a Hurricane everyone sees G‑d. Even the TV reporters see G‑d then. They called the hurricane an “Act of G‑d”

It actually bothers me that when covering this monumental mess, three words keep on appearing: "Act of Gd." Act of G‑d …  suddenly everyone became so religious??

And what do you think G‑d thinks of this expression?

I can imagine Him saying, "Hey, every time something goes terribly wrong it’s an act of G‑d? Go ahead, just blame me.

Famous Yiddish expression: Failure is an orphan, Success is a Mamzer (an illegitmate child that has many parents)

Every time ANYTHING that happens it’s an 'act of Gd' too! Yes, when you walked outside to a gorgeous sunny day – that’s Me!  When your granddaughter was born, healthy and wonderful – hey that was Me too! Look up, you see that completely ordinary cloud, it's Me who is suspending those water crystals in the atmosphere. I'm not just in the hurricane business!"

But what was so beautiful about Irma is how she got everyone else to see G‑d as well!

 

The second time I saw G‑d was in the days directly before we were supposed to get hit. I sent out an email offering to help anyone who was afraid and needed a place to go, or to reach out to check in with people who were living alone. I also asked for volunteers who would be willing to help check on neighbors if need be. The response was overwhelming. Literally 20 to 30 people reached out to me to offer their time, their homes, their extra resources, all to help another.

To see this genuine concern and sincere compassion for others was so personally heartwarming.  When the Torah tells us that man was created in the image of G‑d , I saw it! I saw the selfless love for others that G‑d has for us. I saw the incredible kindness for friends and neighbors that G‑d usually shows us. Being able to facilitate so many Mitzvahs between so many people has been awe inspiring and humbling at the same time. It’s overwhelming to see G‑d; and in all that human goodness, I most definitely saw G‑d.

In the two days after the storm when I, on a spur of the moment decision, decided to host anyone in need of a hot meal to just come and enjoy our air condition I saw G‑d. I had no plan in place, had no idea how many people would come, or how we would get the food to feed so many people so quickly.

But between my family and the many amazing people in this community who just rolled up their sleeves, we were set within hours. I just instinctively felt that if I had electricity it meant that G‑d wanted me to take care of others who needed. But the beautiful energy of 150 people sitting together that afternoon and late into the evening was more powerful then electricity. It was the power of a Kehilla Kedosha, a Holy Community, externally united by a hurricane, but internally united by the power of our soul . As I sat among so many grateful people for so many hours, I could see it clearer and clearer. It was the vision of the world G‑d wants us to make in this planet. A world of one big happy family where we all come together, care for each other, and really go above and beyond for someone else, to do all we can to provide the most basic and mundane needs. And in the faces of those volunteers who came to cook, to serve, to clean, and to privately deliver food to those in need on Thursday and Friday, I saw G‑d. In every donation I received to help someone else I could see G‑d. In clear, open view.

 

Let me share something even more beautiful. Some of the people who joined us those first two nights privately confided in me that at first they were embarrassed to come for a free dinner or to ask for help because thank G‑d they have never been people who have needed help before. They are regular people like you and me. They are donors, they are givers, they did not want to feel like victims or beggars.

That is one of the beautiful things about a Hurricane – it is the ultimate equalizer. The hurricane does not care if you are a rich person living in a 6,000 sq ft house with a 3 car garage, or living in a 2 bedroom apartment. The hurricane reminds us that before G‑d we are all equal.

But they had no choice, their kids were going crazy in a hot home all day. They needed to charge their cell phone and needed somewhere to go. They shared their how welcomed they felt, how everyone was equal. Here they gave more than food and water, they got their dignity, and a sense of belonging to a community that truly cared. There were no halve and halve nots. There were just humans sitting together as one big caring family. Our volunteers revealed “the image of G‑d” within themselves. And by doing so they touched the G‑dly image in others.

Tuesday night as I lay in bed exhausted, I could not sleep. My body was exhausted but my soul was soaring. It was not just my mind racing of all that I had been doing the past few days. I was feeling the exhilaration of knowing that Chana and I had really made a community that I think G‑d would be proud to call home. I believe that if the Rebbe himself would have walked into this room last week he would have been proud of us!

I later found out that there were some people who were too ashamed to come. I so wish they would have come. If they would have I’m sure they would have not seen any judgement or pity. I’m sure they would have seen what I saw: G‑d smiling through the smiles of His children.

 

It’s always dangerous to thank volunteers by name, but there was one family sitting here in Shul right now, who showed such unbelievable sweetness and generosity I want to publicly share with all of you how much they inspired me. They do not know I am going to say this, but I know they are not looking for the limelight, their only concern was what would G‑d want. In the kindness of the Sherman family, from hosting others in their small apartment, to driving cases and cases of food on a moment’s notice to West palm beach, or even to Gainesville 5 hours trip each way, I saw something amazing. In their simple and sincere Ahavas Yisroel, I saw G‑d. 

I saw G‑d in the Bais Chaya high school students that my wife teaches. In between classes they took shifts slicing vegetables, cleaning chickens, packing meals and going door-to-door in Century Village bringing smiles to the elderly who were still without power.

I saw G‑d in the absolute selflessness of the Rabbis who completely forget about their personal needs, forgot their families and forget their normal responsibilities. I saw these heroes interact with a powerfully united drive and a mutual sense of mission that turned Chabad into the most potent force of goodness and kindness that Florida has ever seen.  

Over the course of this past week 73 Chabad centers in Florida were directly involved in hosting meals or preparing and distributing ready to eat meals to elderly and many others who were not able to get kosher food.

How many meals do you think have been served by Chabad – for free – since Hurricane Irma hit our state? 29,500!! That’s not a made up number. That’s based on the internal reports that we all filled in to keep track (and to hopefully eventually get paid back for expenses). Of those 29,000 meals, 3,920 were personally hand-delivered by one of 475 Chabad volunteers in the state who went around the Century Village and Kings Point communities that were without power for a full week.

It was in each and every whatsapp message, and facebook post of teamwork and sharing that I saw G‑d. In each and every one of my fellow Rabbis who gave their heart and soul for their own communities – and for communities we have never seen on the West coast, in the Keys and on the Islands – I saw G‑d.

 

I want to be clear. What Chabad did this past week was unprecedented. No other organization was able to assess the real needs and to get the resources quick enough to respond the same day. But Chabad had the manpower, and we knew the affected people first hand. What my father did when he flew with 50 other Chabad Rabbis to give counseling and help in Houston, and what 200 rabbis have done here in Florida, is organic, home grown love.  Our decisions are made based on the needs of the people we know, not because of numbers and budgets.  And so when one Chabad Rabbi knows another person in need, we rely on our vast network. Tens of thousands of messages and calls went back and forth between us Rabbis sharing much needed supplies, coordinating logistics and manpower, and connecting individual after individual with the specific help they needed.

When David Karsch, the head of Aipac called Rabbi lipskar saying the city of Miami was looking for 2,000 kosher shelf ready meals this past Thursday night, there was absolutely no kosher meat available in Florida. The kosher meat supplier still had no electric and we had already cleaned out every freezer and store with 20,000 meals by that time.

We had no operating plan or hierarchy in place, but we are brothers. So Rabbi Lipskar got on the phone with Houston and by the morning with the help of Miami Commissioner Sally Heyman had gotten United Airlines to give us free freight to ship 2,000 kosher MRE’s to the North Miami Beach community that still had no power for Shabbos!

We had no self- appointed CEO to bring all the pieces together. But we knew the best way to prepare our High Holiday sermons was not by searching the internet for jokes or inspirational stories, but rather by searching for the G‑d who hides within people in need. So we all pitched in our best to answer every single request for help that we got – including from those who are not part of any Chabad community, and even those who are not Jewish. I got a call on Thursday from a black family who heard we were giving out food and was desperate. I gladly gave them as well. Because before G‑d we are all one.

 

My cousin, Rabbi Moishele Wolvovsky was knocking on doors in the Century Village Boca when he heard someone from inside the house weakly calling for him to come in. The door was locked and there was no way through the window. He could hear someone inside, but it took about 6 minutes of waiting for the door to open. Inside was a man completely naked, on his hands and knees, too weak and dehydrated from the heat to even stand. Rabbi Wolvovsky personally poured the water bottle in his hands into this mans mouth and while running to his car for more water called 911. Only after the ambulance came did he continue on to the next house.

My friends, this past week we didn’t just feed thousands of people – we literally saved lives – because we cared to find G‑d waiting in that lonely mans heated condo!

 

I want to end off with something that I mentioned during the first Irma relief dinner here on Monday night. Many people wonder what exactly is Chabad?

Is Chabad a humanitarian organization? No. Are we an educational group? Still no. Are we a synagogue or a religious society? No and no.  

We are a group of Rabbis educated by our Rebbe to share one goal: to expose the Divine in everyone and everything we encounter. That’s it; we are a society dedicated to revealing the Shechina once again in this world. In some places we reveal G‑d through teaching the youth and adult education and lectures, in other places it requires building a Synagogue or providing a Shabbos meal to college students. And sometimes the way to find G‑d is simply by opening our hearts with genuine hospitality, and a hot dinner. 

Tomorrow will explain much more depth to the concept of Tikun Olam – and how we can do it. (Yes, that was a paid announcement from our sponsor J

Tikun Olam, does not just mean “to fix the world.” In ancient Hebrew the word Tikun actually means to beautify. The world is not broken. It just needs to be beautified. And we achieve this goal by exposing the Divine soul within all those who must share it together.

This past two weeks I was blessed to see G‑d so many times. And could see Him too. Just find a person you know could use your help, your support or your encouragement and share it with them. Give them your genuine smile, your sincere concern and your utmost commitment. And in their appreciation you will see G‑d. Smiling at you.

I know that as we go to blow the Shofar we are all going to be blessed with the very sweetest, greatest and most successful year we have ever had. Because there is nothing that makes a parent more proud then watching his children working together to help each other. And there is nothing in the world that makes G‑d more happy then seeing His children come together as one.

"ברכנו אבינו כולנו כאחד"  “Our father, bless us all, together as one!” with health, happiness, and Nachas for a sweet year!