Now it came to pass in the last week of the year _ in the month when hosts of people rejoiced in festivals of light _ in that self-same month and week a mighty storm began under the sea in a place so deep that the eyes of men and women could not pierce the darkness of the waters or feel the trembling of the sea below.
Now the peoples of the Earth had seen storms before, had seen winds before. But the storm that began at the bottom of the sea was unlike any other that had been seen for 40 years.
Signs and warnings were not present. Even the wisest of the wise were unaware because when the storm began, the heavens were not covered with dark clouds filled with water, and the radiant sun was not hid from view. There were no sounds of thunder. Nor was there lightning in the sky. Moon and stars were in their orbits on high.
Many people were in boats atop the sea, and they, even they, had no portent of harm, for the storm moved swiftly beneath the waves of the sea.
But, lo, suddenly as the waves neared the shores of many nations, the waters crashed upon the land in giant waves many cubits high _ yea, even five and 10 times taller than a person.
And when the angry waves crashed upon the shore, the people were afraid, filled with horror and dread. The waves filled the streets of cities and the fields of farms and the arbors of vineyards. The waves crashed into homes of rich and poor. The mighty waves pounded and pounded and pounded. And fear dwelt among the people who saw the raging water come from the sea onto the land.
Children were filled with terror and cried: "Where is my mother? Where is my father?" And children too young to utter even words of fear, they wept copious tears until the huge waves wrapped around them and filled their tiny bodies with water. And the children were no more.
Husbands and wives were flung apart from one another as the waters moved with speed, and multitudes of people were gathered into the waves. And they too are no more.
Those who ran from the waters of fury and lived turned to one another and embraced. They cried out to one another: "Where is my family? Where are my friends? My kinspeople? My neighbors? They are no more. We see them not. We hear them not. They are gone."
Farms and vineyards, houses and trees, gardens and fields . . . all were filled with the devastation of the waters.
The ruination was very great in many lands and nations. The names and numbers of the dead were not fully reckoned or counted, but some said the people who are no more was more than eight score thousand. But only God of the heavens, the Earth and the sea knows all the names and numbers.
Now when the waves stopped crashing upon the shore, the waters receded, the storm ended, and word of the devastation reached the farthest corners of the world. Men and women were shaken in their grief, for nothing had prepared them for the dead and the dying, the disease and the destruction.
Prayers were offered and tears were shed throughout the Earth, but men and women knew in their hearts that was not sufficient. Those who fled the mighty waves and lived needed food to eat, shelter to live in and water to drink. They needed balm for those broken in body and spirit.
The peoples of all nations cried with one voice: "We have seen the evil that befell so many; we have seen the death of children. We have seen, and we will help." And they did.
And the peoples of the richest nations, lands that tasted not the salt of the roaring waves, those peoples turned to their leaders to learn what the princes, kings and rulers would do.
Would leaders only speak words of comfort, but not perform deeds of healing? Would the leader of the world's most powerful realm abundantly share his empire's vast wealth with those who lost everything in the mighty storm? Or would his words be spoken in vain, spoken smoothly from the lips, without truly opening his heart to the cries of the suffering?
And the peoples of the Earth watched and waited.
And as in all things in the heavens above and the Earth below, God will judge.
Rabbi Rudin, the American Jewish Committee's senior interreligious adviser, is distinguished visiting professor at Saint Leo University.