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Thoughts and prayers

When my youngest was in the ICU, the people who helped the most sat with us at the hospital and stocked our fridge
Illustrative. Tali Shaltiel, an Israeli physician, taking a Syrian child from a dinghy that arrived at a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos. (Boaz Arad/IsraAID)
Illustrative. Tali Shaltiel, an Israeli physician, taking a Syrian child from a dinghy that arrived at a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos. (Boaz Arad/IsraAID)

Hurricane Florence rips into North Carolina at the end of last August. Fifty-five people lose their lives. Chapel Hill, Smithfield, Durham, Lumberton and Fayeteville are completely inundated.

Sending thoughts and prayers.

In September, Typhoon Mangkhut batters the Phillipines. 127 die. Over 100,000 are displaced.

Sending thoughts and prayers.

At the end of September, a massive earthquake hits Indonesia. 2,783 die. 330,000 are left homeless.

Sending thoughts and prayers.

Be it a school shooting, terror attack or plane crash, social media explodes with “thoughts and prayers” — and the occasional twibbon in solidarity with the victims.

Then life goes on. We’re good. We’ve showed that we care. We live too far and there’s really not much more that we can do.

An acquaintance takes ill, G-d forbid. Doctors predict that they’ll spend a few weeks in hospital. We leap into action. A simple “thoughts and prayers” message won’t cut it. This is someone we know, someone we care about. So, we WhatsApp them or their relatives a few times a week: “Thinking of you,” “Hope you’re doing well,” “In my prayers.”

A friend loses a parent — or maybe a grandparent. We quickly text our comment on their Facebook wall, “So sorry for your loss.” We follow up with, “Thinking of you all at this time.”

Thoughts and prayers.

All is good in the world.

Within days, an IsraAID team arrives to assist with disaster relief in North Carolina. Soon after, Israelis arrive to assist in the Luzon, Philippines. In early October, Israeli emergency teams arrive in Indonesia.

No “thoughts and prayers.” Israel put boots on the ground.

Our ancestors were barely a nation, just days after their liberation, when they faced their first national crisis. Moses had led them to the edge of the sea and Pharaoh’s mighty army had caught up behind them. With no viable escape route, it seemed the fledgling Jewish nation would be destroyed.

Moses stood deep in prayer, begging G-d for a way out. G-d’s answer came swiftly — and strangely: “Why are you praying to Me? Take action!”

No thoughts and prayers. Find something you can do to help. And do it.

Prayer is beautiful — and powerful. But, it is inappropriate when you can actually do something to help.

G-d’s stern response clearly echoes in the ears of those Israeli teams who hop onto planes at short notice to set up field hospitals or search-and-rescue teams in disaster areas.

His message should ring loudly when we hear of someone bereaved or battling illness. Don’t just send “thoughts and prayers.” Do something. Visit them. Make them a meal. Take their kids on an outing. Do their shopping. You have no idea how much it will mean to them.

Just over a year ago, our youngest spent some time in ICU. We clung to every message of concern that people texted us. Who made the most profound impact were those who sat with us at the hospital, lifted and entertained our kids, stocked our fridge, and sent us board games to help pass the lonely Shabbos in a hospital far from the Jewish ‘burbs.

Moses shifted from prayer to action and G-d overrode Nature. Think: Can I offer more than just a text? Or even a prayer? Is there something I can do? That’s when the miracles begin.

Inspired by the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

About the Author
Rabbi Shishler together with his wife, Naomi and their eight children, runs Chabad of Strathavon in Sandton, South Africa. Rabbi Shishler is a popular teacher who regularly lectures around the globe. he hosts a weekly radio show in South Africa and is the rabbi of Facebook's largest Ask the Rabbi group.
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