by Rabbi Berel Wein
The devastating hurricane that visited the eastern part of the United States last week spawned terrible loss of life, enormous property damage and some soul-searching as to the real non-weather related cause of this disaster. Judging from the emails I have received and reading the pronouncements that have appeared, especially in Jewish publications, it is apparent that many people feel themselves expert enough to know God’s mind, so to speak, in this matter.
Well, I must confess my inadequacy regarding this subject for I have no theory to advance as to why all of this devastation and loss of life occurred – and why it was justified in Heaven’s eyes. I take the Torah at its word “that no living human being will see or understand me.” The absence of prophecy in Israel is sorely felt at occasions such as this.
The prophets of Israel were able to identify the spiritual and human behavioral causes of otherwise seemingly natural disasters. I am therefore bewildered that there are so many who insist that they know why this hurricane struck the area that it did and that it is Divine punishment for certain sins committed there.
The seemingly natural disasters that befell the people and Land of Israel in biblical times – hailstorms, locust invasions, droughts, etc. were explained by the prophets of the time and their redemptive or punitive purposes were delineated. But we have no prophets today that can deal with and explain to us tsunamis in Bangladesh or hurricanes in Long Island.
That is a very humbling experience for many because we are somehow taught and raised to be know-it-alls, especially in understanding how God runs our world. We are to believe that there are those amongst us that know everything. But here comes another event that proves us to be puny, ignorant and powerless (no unfortunate pun intended.)
Therefore I feel almost resentful as to the communications being broadcast by those who explain spiritually the causes of the hurricane. These explanations may or not be correct but my question always is – how does one know that that is the correct explanation?
In the midst of the current political campaign that is consuming the Israeli media – much more than it is affecting the average Israeli voter’s equilibrium – we are again faced with a plethora of know-it-alls. The pundits tell us daily what will occur, who will and should be elected and who will not, what the future holds for us and other assorted bits of smug certainty and clucking wisdom.
I ask myself the same question mentioned above – how do they know? Especially since the track record of all of the wise men and pundits, soothsayers and political experts here in Israel is very spotty at best. Since humility is hardly the trait of “experts” and the media here in Israel is blaringly loud and sensationalist in the main, always claiming objectivity while advancing its own political agenda and favorites, many of us here just ignore the whole scene until called upon to actually vote on the appointed day.
Since who knows what will happen when one actually assumes office, many of us are permanently undecided voters because we feel that there is really no viable choice Ariel Sharon’s disastrous betrayal of Gush Katif –“what one sees from here in office is not what one saw from there while campaigning” – has certainly made the Israeli voter a wary and suspicious being when it comes to political promises and policies.
Again, it is prophecy and its ability to enlighten us as to the real meanings of events and the promises that people make that is certainly lacking.
The major unanswered issue in my opinion that still hangs over our Jewish society is the Holocaust and the destruction of European Jewry. What was the real cause for that unspeakable tragedy? There Heaven is hidden from our understanding completely. Nevertheless, there have been reasons advanced to “explain” the event – in a spiritual and societal vein.
The actual facts of the Holocaust are known and documented for all to see and study. The Heavenly cause for allowing such an event to occur is not known. There are those who blamed it on Zionism and those who blamed it on anti-Zionism. There are those who said it was the forces of modernism - and others who claim that exactly the opposite was true. Yet, the true answer may never be known to us in this world.
So, those who do advance explanations and the certainty of knowing Heaven’s will do so only at their own peril. Silence and acceptance, rebuilding and revitalizing, staying the course and being humble about all matters is the wisest course for believing Jews to take.