"A tsu—what?" I asked my husband, only half-focusing on what he was saying.

I remember clearly where I was when I first heard the news of the tsunami disaster.

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It was a rare quiet moment on that sunny, cold Sunday. I was sitting at my computer trying to finish an essay, while my baby napped peacefully upstairs in her crib and my older children pleasantly occupied themselves in the room nearby. My husband, seated at his desk in our shared home study, was reading aloud reports from the internet.

The news was just being released in small trickles. The death toll was still uncertain, nowhere near the numbers to which it would climb by week's end. I had never heard of "tsunamis" and I could only vaguely point out Indonesia or Sri Lanka on a world map.

I'm ashamed to say that as my husband read the news, I was convinced of its utter irrelevance to me.

A tsunami? A natural disaster in some remote third-world countries, deep in southeast Asia? How could this possibly have any bearing on me, safely ensconced in my suburban home?

The paper that I was working on, now, that was immediate. The impending demands of my children for some form of Sunday afternoon recreation — that was pressing. The soon-to-be-heard wails that would emanate from my baby's crib — what could be more important?

As the week progressed and the news reports poured in, the magnitude and horror of the tragedy became clear.

Seeing pictures of mothers mourning infants who were torn away from their desperate grasp in the raging waters, of mere teenagers burying the bodies of loved ones, of entire villages completely destroyed by the tsunami — the horrific tragedy became personal and heart wrenching.

The tally of the havoc, pain, suffering and loss of life was growing daily. The tsunami didn't play favorites with tourists or villagers, rich or poor. Its devastation was universal, indiscriminate of age, gender or race.

The fortunate survivors were almost hand-picked, each carrying their own miraculous story, but each also facing the grim reality of a new life replete with incomprehensible loss and tragedy.

I am no longer ignorant of the meaning of the word "tsunami." My six year old can give a lesson in how earthquakes occur and my ten year old can confidently, if sadly, point out the countries and major cities of the afflicted region.

So many of us, in so many countries the world-over, have been touched by the enormity of the tragedy. Everywhere, people are searching for answers — how could this have happened? Why? How do we face such suffering? How can we comprehend its trail of grief?

Perhaps more importantly, everywhere I turn I witness people moved to action as they ask themselves: How can I help? What can I do? Pocketbooks are opened, checks are written out. There has also been an overwhelming spiritual response: prayers are recited and good deeds increased, as more and more of us are becoming introspective and attempting to do the little bit in our power to unleash more positive energy in our world.

The last time I remember such a universal outpouring of kindness and such an awakening of faith and awareness of G‑d was in the aftermath of that fateful day of September 11, three years ago.

The face of America changed at the time, with a massive embracing of religion as more and more individuals sought solace in spirituality. Even here in Canada, the sight of signs proclaiming, "G‑d bless America" or "In G‑d we trust" were commonplace.

What is it about disasters or tragedies that awaken our spiritual side? Why does witnessing human suffering up-close bring us closer to each other, and to G‑d?

On the face of it, the loss of human life seems random and senseless.

On the face of it, it looks like an incomprehensible act of horror unleashed by senseless evil forces, possessing no rationale or reason. Logically, such apparent senselessness should lead us further away from belief in the Providence and Oneness of a good, loving and omnipresent G‑d.

Yet it is precisely in face of the seeming randomness of such horrific events that we become drawn to a Greater Force — just as we become united with some unidentified woman in a third-world village.


To be honest, I don't usually relate to what happens in a village in the other end of the world. Nor do I frequently think about hospitals throughout the world filled with people suffering from chronic diseases. I don't often contemplate the plight of the homeless person sleeping on the frigid streets of downtown Toronto.

These issues don't relate to me. I feel securely immune to these problems. The suffering is affecting some nameless them, in some neighborhood over there with little relevance to my life.

Similarly, while I realize that there is a G‑d in this world, while I try to do His will and follow His commandments, my awareness of and relationship with G‑d usually come only after, or along with, taking care of my own pressing needs. Prayer and Torah study has a time and a place, but, under "normal" circumstances, it usually plays a background role to the immediacy of making a living, to my daily deadlines and appointments.

Then along comes a tragedy and my perspective changes entirely.

Suddenly the immediacy of all these "urgent" things and my focus on me is profoundly altered.

Suddenly, I feel a connection with a nameless woman in Indonesia mourning her baby.

What has changed?

On the surface, a new awareness of my own vulnerability and lack of immunity dissolves our differences. My fear of a random horror or some senseless tragedy happening to me awakens a bond of compassion.

But it runs deeper than that.

Before the creation of our world, there was absolute unity. There were no divisions within existence — no multifarious world or individualized beings.

Humanity could not exist, since each of us would have been encompassed within the overpowering unity of our Source. Just as the sun's rays lose any illumination within the sun's orb, there could be no independent self.

But then came the creation of our physical world, and with it a muting of this blinding recognition of our Source. So much so, in fact, that we feel it is "my strength and the power of my efforts" that causes our triumphs and gains. Facing my own unique set of circumstances, armed with my own, distinct capabilities, I feel like the master of my destiny.

Empowered as an individual, propelled by my sense of self, I am isolated from "you" and all "others." Wrapped up in my own existential "I", I fail to see the wholeness of all reality. Ensconced in my personal circumstances, it is difficult for me to see beyond my surroundings.

Moreover, my sense of self becomes so paramount that I fail to recognize the underlying Unity and Source of all of creation.

Until an unfortunate and incomprehensible tragedy comes along, and the barriers that define our individual existences come tumbling down. Suddenly, through the tragedy's randomness, through its being inflicted on anyone — the particulars of each of our circumstances and lifestyles become irrelevant.

And as our circumstances become irrelevant, we are accorded a glimpse of the core unity of all of our existences.

When I read of one hundred, 10,000 or 100,000 lives being shattered, honestly, it doesn't say much to me. My mind doesn't digest such numbers.

But when I learn of one lone mother torn apart from her infant, or one young teenager who lost everyone she knew — and when I envision 10,000 or 100,000 of such mothers and teenagers — I am no longer viewing this mother and teen as strangers, belonging to a different nationality, creed, race or religion.

I no longer see her as one of them, over there.

The color of her hair, the hue of her complexion, her social or financial status, her dress code or personal temperament don't matter to me-just as it didn't matter to the waves of the tsunami. Just as the tragedy was indiscriminate to these differences, so is my newfound awareness of our inner connectedness.

I am no longer viewing the categorization of man or woman, youth or elder, tourist or villager, Canadian or Indonesian.

Instead, I am seeing a human soul. A soul that is suffering.

The division of our separate existences lifts for those few moments, days or weeks that I allow myself to grieve their affliction, and our fundamental unity rises to the surface.

Circumstantially, we have absolutely nothing in common.

Superficially, the event has no relevance on my life.

But its random devastation has demonstrated our point of connection.

What is our underlying connection?

That we have a soul within.

Whether the person suffering is man or woman, from whatever race or creed, we are all children of the same Father, sparks of the same Source, and creations of the same Creator.

G‑d's all-pervading unity has penetrated through the dividing circumstances of our lives to reveal our unified essence.

From my computer desk in my suburban Thornhill home, I no longer consider them, but us.

I see our equal relevance as divine souls.

And, I see the common ground of our reliance in the absolute Source of all of reality.