False and True: Lessons from Hawaii’s red alert
“The alert said to stay close to the ground, so we sat with them on the floor and [I] thought this could be my last moments with the kids,” said Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, a University of Hawaii professor. “There’s the immediate shock … and then hopelessness and [the realization] that there’s something that may be changing your life.”
Last Saturday at 8:07 am, the Emergency Alert System was triggered indicating that a ballistic missile was heading for Hawaii. Throughout the 38 minutes it took to clarify the mistake and reassure the public, helpless terror pulsated through homes and communities across the Islands.
The false alarm was inexcusable. It was a casualty of our communication revolution which features frenzies of falsehood. Ungrounded claims proliferate daily. We have come to expect imprecision in Breaking News. Will we soon expect inaccurate Emergency Alerts?
It is noteworthy that happenings are weightier than information. Events are more crammed with marvel than are ideas. Immediate experiences are also more reliable, honest, and telling. Misinformation is worrisome. Deeply so. Yet misdeeds are a greater concern for our tradition.
God’s Torah prioritizes happenings like the Exodus, the parting of the Red Sea, and the Mt. Sinai revelation, over ideas. We are not commanded to remember ideas, but rather transformative experiences. This is why every household is actively engaged in a Pascal offering and Seder happening prior to Exodus in this week’s portion of Torah. The Exodus is personal, immediate. There is nothing vicarious about our founding story.
Also, the intensity of the ninth plague of darkness is viscerally described. “Let there be darkness on the land of Egypt, and one will feel the darkness (v’Yameish choshech)” (Ex. 10:21). Darkness can indeed feel tangible, more tactile than merely visual. Light too can be more than visual. Its soft glow can feel quite tangible.
Last Saturday afternoon, Hawaiian leader Chris Lee noticed a myriad of strangers greeting one another, exchanging stories about their morning, and offering each other their spot in line. “The little things that people worry about in day-to-day life and get frustrated with,” he said, “completely evaporated.”
The alarm was false. The glowing humanity was true. May we draw inspiration from Hawaii’s courage and resilience, making happen each day events of glowing goodness across our land.
A sweet Shabbat to you.
Rabbi William Hamilton
Image: Samuel Bak, Above, oil painting
Image provided by Pucker Gallery