When I took this job at Chabad.org Ask-The-Rabbi, I didn’t realize I was supposed to be G‑d’s defense attorney. But for whatever reason, people intuitively see religion as a comfort pillow, a set of answers to questions that will set everything alright so that they can go on living within a stable, explicable world knowing that some rabbi at the other end of their mobile device will have an answer to whatever’s gone wrong.

People are cold, wet, hungry and exhausted. And they want an explanation.

Enough griping, Freeman. People are cold, wet, hungry and exhausted. They’ve lost their homes, their possessions—their whole future has been abruptly and violently pulled out from under them. And they want you to explain to them how, despite all external appearances, Hurricane Sandy was an act of G‑d, and not just a freak incident of some indifferent entity called nature.

C’mon, Freeman. Torah’s gotta have an answer to that.

Whose Garden Is This?

One of the first narratives we heard as kids in Hebrew School is how Adam and Eve got kicked out of the Garden. Nice, simple story, right? No, please, no. The story is deep, so very, very deep.

Creator makes earth. He likes the earth He made. It’s good. He makes Adam. He likes the Adam critter, too. He’s very good. So He puts the Adam in a beautiful garden with dates, almonds and figs for the picking, lovely rivers in which to bathe, a controlled climate system, caressed gently by a warm, distant ball of fire by day, and a not-so-distant semi-reflective device by night. He split the Adam in two, because loneliness was deemed “not good,” and blessed them to be fruitful and multiply, as stewards of this beautiful garden custom-designed just for them.

But the Adam critters are not satisfied with tending to someone else’s garden in which they have no say and just have to follow the rules. The Adam critters have this need to feel their own sense of being, to have their own lives; in a certain way to be like the Creator Himself. And they let their Creator know that, with just one mischievous deed—and a lot of blaming.

But the Adam critters are not satisfied with taking care of someone else's garden. They want their own lives, with their own world.

So the Creator says, “Okay, you want your own lives. Not a bad idea. But then you’ll need to have your own world as well. So I’ll give you a wild, bucking-bronco world, and you’ll have the responsibility of taking care of it, and taking care of yourself inside it. And then you too will have some of the sense of being a Creator.”

And with that the Adam critter, which is us, is sent out of the garden, “to work the earth from which he was taken.”

It is still very much a controlled earth, by far the mildest of planets we’ve observed with any telescope. A thin, translucent cloak shields life from harsh cosmic rays, while carrying just the right trace of carbon to retain its warmth. It juggles that carbon, along with nitrogen and water in perpetual life-giving cycles, turning air into living organisms that breathe back life into the air. Winds moderate temperatures, while carry moisture from the seas, casting gentle flakes upon the mountains, and descend in the warmer seasons to water the plains and valleys. That semi-reflective device also works nicely to provide a cycle of tides that marry together the seas and the dry land. Magnificent, beautiful, beyond ingenious.

But the system is not always so friendly. And there come those times when it downright turns blindly against us, as though we don’t exist. We find ourselves rendered helpless before a force much greater than us. Suddenly, we are small. Suddenly it hits us that, hey, we didn’t make this place. And we don’t control it, either.

Yet, it is at these times that we must ourselves become G‑dly. Because we are being forced to take responsibility for our own world. The environmental scientists will argue over whether this has to do with us tipping that delicate balance of carbon in the atmosphere. One thing I know for sure: We have to clean up the mess our fellow Adam critters are in, and we have to build a world that disasters like this cannot so easily tumble.

Being G‑dly

What I’m not going to say is that it’s just nature, things like this just happen. Like Maimonides writes, people who say “things just happen” are cruel people. Why cruel? Because they’re robbing from others the opportunity to lift themselves up, from entire communities the opportunity to transform. To realize that “things happen” because there’s a Creator, and we are His creations with an assignment. We’re here to make this world, and all those in it, know how G‑dly it is.

Look at what’s happening today in the seaside neighborhoods of New York and New Jersey. Communities are being forced to build themselves back up. Let me tell you this: No outside agency is going to be able to do all that for them. If anyone can do it, it’s the community itself.

I’m hearing from Chabad rabbis whose homes and centers were wiped out, and they’re running around getting meals to seniors, generators to cold homes and bringing in busloads of volunteers to clean out the sand and muck and deliver meals. Sure, there’s a truck down the street where people are lining up to get food packages, but how are people stuck in their apartments without a phone supposed to know? There’s an American Army, there’s FEMA, there’s the Red Cross—but sometimes it takes someone like this little, bearded guy who knows the streets, knows the people, is trusted by them, and who feels his destiny is tied to theirs, to pick up their spirits and get them to rebuild their homes and their lives.

Hey, when you’re without phone, electricity, heat or transportation, the grocery stores are in ruins and there’s nowhere to grab a meal, and you look down the stairs at a muck-saturated clump of everything you ever saved, your clothes, your books, your family heirlooms, and it’s all gone, all gone—it’s no small deal when the local rabbi drops by with a kosher meal, some news from the outside world, and you can pour your heart out to him. Life becomes once again a viable option.

Are You Comfy Yet?

Does that answer the question? Does that make you feel all comfy, because everything is explained, including hurricanes, tsunamis and the Creator of the universe?

I hope not. Because it’s not supposed to. Torah is not G‑d’s defense portfolio. It’s His instructions to us, telling us what we’re here for and what we’re supposed to do right now. Every mitzvah you do, from wrapping tefillin to lighting candles before Shabbat, is included in instructions to fix the world, right now.

Right now, the best thing you can do is get a truckload of generators, power cables, heaters and sandwiches, drive into one of those seaside neighborhoods with a few friends, and yell out, “Anyone need help? Anyone need a generator or heater at cost price? Anyone need a few hands to shovel out the sand?” Then go into apartment buildings and knock on doors.

If you can’t, and even if you can, you can help out our men and women on the scene, integral members of those communities, some of whom have lost everything, and yet are dedicated to get their entire community back on its feet. One way to do that is through our Hurricane Sandy Emergency Relief Fund.

But please don't stop there. Like I said, it's a deeply intertwined ecosystem in which every mitzvah of the Torah has its vital place in healing the world—and here are ten great starting points.

And here’s a photo essay I made back when Katrina hit, saying pretty much the same thing: We’re not here to explain G‑d. We’re here to act G‑dly. And to make this a G‑dly world.