The question, "Where was G‑d when this happened?" has intrigued philosophers through out the ages. Even Moses was troubled by this thought. When faced with great tragedy, it haunts us. One day, it hit me too.

It all began when I received a phone call from Rabbi Yosef Kantor, director of Chabad activities in Southeast Asia. He was looking for two rabbinic students to intern in Thailand and head Chabad's relief effort in Thailand's ravaged southwestern coast. Being 23 years old and having just completed my rabbinic ordination, I jumped at the offer. I teamed up with Yossi Zaklos, an old school pal. Two days later we landed in Bangkok.

We set up headquarters on Phuket Island. The once heavily populated Patong Beach, nicknamed 'The Highway' for its five rows of beach chairs, lay empty and naked. With scores of vacant rooms in hotels, the streets were empty. Phuket was a ghost town. Thai and Burmese workers were bustling around, trying to re-establish normalcy to what was once a tourist hot spot.

We got to work right away burying the dead and helping the wounded. As time progressed, the relief effort shifted from dealing with a disaster zone to visiting tsunami camps, giving humanitarian aid to the survivors, talking with the locals, keeping a close contact with the village heads, and teaming up with other relief groups. We helped in any way could. We must have been a sight to behold—two bearded rabbis with kippot (skull caps) and tzitzit (fringes) running around Thai and Muslim villages distributing sacks of rice, bags of chilies, cartons of instant noodles, mattresses and pillows, rice cookers and water kettles, toothbrushes and toothpaste, sanitary napkins and toilet paper. Our motto was, "Anything that can help them get their lives back on track, we'll bring it."

After about a month in Thailand we took the two-hour boat ride to Phi Phi Island, once voted one of the prettiest tourist spots in Asia.

Stepping onto the island felt like walking into a war movie—minus the action.

We walked down a road filled with rubble, past shops that looked like they'd been bombed away. Smoke was rising from the burning debris. A few lingering volunteers pushed wheelbarrows with somber expressions as they sweated in the heat of the day. In the distance we noticed a Thai family looking through a heap of rubble at a place they once called home.

What was once an island filed with life and dreams had in a few short moments turned into a nightmare of death.

After weeks in Thailand trying to be a source of cheer and comfort to the victims, trying to show a strong face and hide my emotions, the visions and experiences of the past four weeks caught up with me. I sat down on a fallen tree and wept.

I cried for those who died, and for those who lived. I cried for the children who were killed, for the parents, the orphans, the survivors. I cried for the emptiness in Ban Nam Kem, where an entire town was washed away. In the morgue in Khao Lak, bodies lay waiting to be identified, and sadly, some never would.

How, I pondered, had so many lives been lost, and scores more shattered, in such a few moments? G‑d, I cried, where were you on that ominous Sunday morning? Why have you forsaken us? How can we understand such an event—is there any reason for this? Could there be an explanation?

That night I lay in bed, the day’s events still vivid in my mind. I remembered a homily I once heard. In the book of Exodus, the Torah tells us of the following incident. Moses once realized that G‑d was in a very merciful mode. He mustered up the courage to take advantage of the moment, and asked the Al-mighty: "Show me Your glory." G‑d responded, "You cannot see My face." However, G‑d continued in the next verse, "you will see My back."

All the commentaries try to make sense of this passage. They ask what Moses sought when he requested to see G‑d's "glory" and what G‑d meant when he replied that Moses can see his back but not his face.

One of the commentaries explains it this way: Moses looked in to the future and envisioned the tragedies his people would experience. He asked G‑d, "Why do you hide yourself in our most difficult moments? Show me your glory! Reveal the meaning of all this, the great purpose that makes sense of it all." And G‑d responded: You cannot see my face. You cannot see me revealed in the horror. However, "You will see my back"--you will see me there in hindsight. When you look back and reflect on the past events, you will find me.

Two weeks later, sitting on the runway in the Bangkok airport, I found myself reflecting on my trip to Thailand. In a few moments our plane would lift off and fly back to New York. I thought about the wonderful people I had met, the relief workers that came from all over the world, mothers and fathers who left their jobs and children behind to do something that would make a difference. I thought about all the people around the world who contributed so generously to the global relief effort. Everybody was so moved by the plight of those who lay in the wake of the tsunami. All thinking the same thing, "How can I sit where I am and go on with my life while so many people are suffering?" I thought about the Thai people who suffered so much and lost everything they owned yet when we came to visit their camps, how kind and selfless they were, sharing with us their meager possessions and the little food they had.

There is no explanation for why it happened and for why so many people suffered. But in hindsight, sitting on the plane and looking back, I saw G‑d's back. I was able to say: "G‑d, You pushed us to our limit—but we responded. I found you—in us."