How to Respond Effectively to a Tragedy or Crisis

The Jewish way: Moving past helplessness to action

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Yaakov Weiland,

Yakov Weiland
Yakov Weiland
YK

Usually, when people hear about a tragedy or crisis, they either feel helpless or indifferent. But there is a third option, and that is to respond effectively. Here are three steps how. 

Do what you can to help. Assistance can be divided into four areas. Sometimes, we can only help in one or two areas, other times, in all four:

Financial. A crisis can quickly throw a family or individual into debt, with people needing to take time off from work and incurring additional expenses. Offering an interest free loan, a cash gift or directing them to organizations that help people in their circumstance, can be a real lifeline. (As best you can, support those organizations.)

Spiritual. Choose something to do in their merit. For example, each day, say an extra Psalm, give extra charity, do an extra mitzvah or be extra careful to avoid a sin.

Material. Cook or shop for them, or invite them for Shabbat meals. Carpool, offer to watch their kids or take the kids on an outing.

Those in crisis are more likely to accept your offer of assistance if you are specific. Say, “Can I do X for you?” instead of, “If you need me for anything, you have my number.” Talk with them to identify the areas that would be most helpful for them, and respect their decision if they are not currently interested in your assistance. You can ask them again at a later date, if you think they may be open to it then.

Emotional. Just offering a shoulder to lean on or a listening ear goes a long way. We often overlook the importance of this type of help, but to people going through pain, the emotional support of family and friends is essential.

We need to have two phases of help. The first phase is in the beginning, when we do whatever we can to stabilize the crisis. Then comes the second phase, when we figure out how much help we can offer on an ongoing basis without depleting ourselves or ignoring other responsibilities.

Enlist the help of others and coordinate who does what. This will ensure that no one person is overburdened and that the people receive the help they need, for as long as they need.

Look for ways to grow. No one knows for sure why crises happen; only God does. But what we do know is that they are an opportunity for growth. Ask, “What can I learn from this? How can I use this to become a better person and stay focused on what’s really important in life?”

If nothing specific resonates with you, speak to your rabbi or spiritual mentor for guidance.

There is often an area in our lives where we have been sitting on the fence, either something we are doing we know is wrong and want to stop, or a mitzvah observance we want to strengthen. Use a crisis to propel you off the fence and make that one change you have been contemplating.

We frequently stumble in the area of interpersonal relationships. We may make excuses as to why it’s okay to gossip about or hate certain people, why it’s not a sin to cause them emotional or financial harm. But when a crisis strikes, all those excuses sound hollow and we realize how petty and wrong we were. Use a crisis as a catalyst to reach out to those from whom you are estranged or to those whom you have wronged. Take the first step toward peace or asking for forgiveness.

There are times when we pray intensely but the crisis continues. We cry out (Psalms 44:24), “Awaken! Why do you seem to sleep O Lord?” Often though, aren’t we the ones who are asleep and continue in our misguided ways? We need to wake ourselves up. Once we have changed for the better, we strengthen our prayers that God change the crisis for the better.

If a crisis turns into a tragedy, that does not mean we didn’t do enough or that our prayers were in vain. God’s ways are beyond us and no prayer is ever wasted. Good will come from those prayers; what and when we do not know.

Strengthen your faith. Having faith can help you be appropriately concerned about a crisis, without becoming consumed by it. If you are constantly checking the news, thinking about the crisis all the time, and walking around in a cloud of despair and worry – no one benefits; not you and not those affected.

With faith, we believe that God runs the world and that whatever happens – whether an outcome we want or one we dread – it will be for the ultimate good; everything will work out in the end, whether in this world or the next (as long as we put in our best effort, especially spiritual ones). With faith, we can’t explain how things will work out, but we know they will. (See, Everything Works Out in the End: Even when it doesn’t appear to.)

With faith, we know that God is by our side and that if we try to assist those in need and grow from a crisis, He will help us. 

Although we might initially feel helpless when we hear about a tragedy or crisis, there’s no time or reason for despair. We have work to do, and God is leading the way.

To read Yaakov’s currently free e-book, Inspired: 30 Days to a More Meaningful and Fulfilling Life, click here.








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