Growing up, whenever it seemed as though bad luck had visited our household or one of us in particular, my mother would quickly remind us that “bad things happen in three’s.” Karma, fate, the evil eye, Divine intervention, or whatever you would call it, this meant that this spate of bad fortune was somehow happening for a reason. When the third bad thing was something harmless, like, for example, dropping a glass on the kitchen floor, it was such a relief. We were free and clear of bad luck; it was over. Back to happy, and the blue skies of possibility.

Of course, I shed this superstition a long time ago. Rationally, it is clear that the world does not work this way. Some people have worse luck than others; some people suffer more than the average. There is no cause and effect to explain illnesses, accidents and natural disasters. And explaining the evil designs of those who do us harm just doesn’t work. You can’t blame the victim.

The best thing we can do is to try to discern what we have learned from our experiences and how we have grown and changed through the challenges we face.

So I am once again redirecting my thoughts from old world superstitions, to reflect on the past week in the Northeastern USA. This week our area endured two rare and unexpected natural disasters — an earthquake and a hurricane.

The earthquake caught us completely by surprise and fortunately did little more than scare us. But it certainly did distract just about everyone in our area for the better part of a day. The sense of immediate fear gave way to a more unsettling feeling of vulnerability. We thought we lived in an area free from earthquakes, even if somewhere we’d read that it was possible. It just doesn’t happen here. Except that now we know that it does, and the surprise of the quake reminded everyone of our lack of control over our environment.

Early in the week reports of Hurricane Irene in the area of the Bahamas didn’t catch our attention in any particular way — it is that time of year. We sympathize with the people who live in the hurricane zones, but usually in a distant way. We know we may need to mobilize to help some community that could suffer damage, and we are ready for that. This one snuck up on us; by midweek the news of a chance of a Northeast US impact began to circulate. The approaching storm brought with it a slow-motion build-up of fear. Thursday and Friday brought air that was heavy with worry.

As I scurried around our house looking for flashlights and batteries, complaining that we might run out of batteries if the power were out for days, my husband tried to calm me down. We had plenty, he said. I was not ready to give up. We tried two stores just before Shabbat– both were sold out of batteries. OK, I awakened to the reality — we did have enough to get through and I was overreacting. I quickly rediscovered what I really needed — I found it in shul on Shabbat. In spite of the stress because several precious guests of the bar mitzvah family for Shabbat were not going to make it to New Jersey because of the storm, our community found great solace in our Shabbat together, and the bar mitzvah was beautiful. We left the fixation on the approaching storm outside our doors; inside we felt comfort, joy, peace and faith. With a realization that there is little we can control in our environment, and a sense of satisfaction for the Jewish spiritual path that maps out how we can make the best of what we can control, we were at peace. We knew that if the storm brought harm, we would help each other, and we would get through it together. Being together, singing, praying, learning Torah, and shmoozing was great solace. We meant it when we prayed “everything’s going to be alright.”

This storm did cause damage and some tragic deaths. Our hearts go out to the families of those who are grieving as a result of these losses. Having carried anxiety and fear in our hearts for half a week, we can turn ourselves to recovery. In our best selves, we are helping each other. In the process we are reminded of all the best in humanity: compassion, caring, generosity, courage and patience. The primary lessons we take into this new week are the importance of community and faith and purpose in enduring the catastrophes and bad luck that we cannot control. I pray that we remember this and use this lesson for good.