Tears in the Sea

13 Jan

The pictures and eye-witness reports coming out of Haiti indicate that we are only two weeks into this new decade and we have already suffered an immense, unimaginable loss of human life – we may very well surpass the levels of the 2004 tsunami.

How do we understand God’s role in the face of natural disaster?

In my recently published book, Where’s My Miracle?, I have devoted a section of the book to this difficult topic: Seeking the Hand of God amid Natural Disaster.

Here is a quote from the Talmud and a short passage from the book:

When the Holy One, blessed be He, is reminded of the great pain of His children suffering under the heels of their Gentile oppressors, He sheds two tears into the Mediterranean Sea whose sound is heard from one end of the world to the other. That is what we call an earthquake.” (Babylonian Talmud,  Berakhot 59a)

An earthquake is not the punishment or rebuke of an angry God, but rather a by-product of God’s sadness and His sympathy for us. In other words, according to this source, when human beings oppress and persecute other human beings, God, so to say, grieves for their suffering. The seismic vibrations felt “from one end of the world to the other” are the result of the “tears” God sheds at the thought of this suffering.

Since we know that God has no tears per se, let me suggest an interpretation of the deeper meaning of this text.

It seems to me that the text purposefully links the imperfections of humankind with the imperfections of the earth to teach an important lesson.

In this text, God is described as thinking about the suffering that His nation has endured through the persecutions wrought by other nations. This text seems to clearly articulate that these human atrocities are not God’s doing. They have been executed against God’s will, causing Him to grieve and even “cry” at the very thought of his creations choosing to be so evil to one another.

And, just as the sufferings for which God mourns here are not intentionally brought about by God, so too, natural disasters, such as earthquakes, are not intentionally served up by God. They too come about without divine intent.

Like tears rolling down one’s cheeks, neither the tears nor the exact place they land are the result of premeditated decisions. Although God originally created all aspects of the natural world, neither their timing nor the devastation they wreak upon us has been sent upon us by God.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in an article he wrote entitled “Why Does God Allow Terrible Things to Happen to His People?” [Times (UK), January 1, 2005.] wrote as follows:

Natural disasters have no explanation other than that God, by placing us in a physical world, set life within the parameters of the physical. Planets are formed, tectonic plates shift, earthquakes occur, and sometimes – innocent people die. To wish it were otherwise is in essence to wish that we were not physical beings at all. Then we would not know pleasure, desire, achievement, freedom, virtue, creativity, vulnerability and love. We would be angels – God’s computers, programmed to sing His praise.

There is a lot more to say on this topic.  Nature can bring about devastation.  However, nature can also give protection.

When it comes to bringing about the first three plagues: blood, frogs and lice, God instructs that the act of hitting the Nile river or smacking the dust of Egypt is not toi be performed by Moshe, but rather by Aaron.  The Midrash(cited by Rashi) indicates that God insisted that it be this way, for Moshe owed his very life to both – it was the Nile that gently cared for him as baby, bringing him safely to his destiny, and the sand enabled him to bury the Egyptian and escape immediate danger. In both cases, teaches the Midrash, nature is to be respected for the life and protection if offers us.

Nature is a miracle; even if at times it can also wreak havoc.

For now, I will only add my prayers to those being uttered at this moment by millions around the world.

May all those who can lend assistance to the people of Haiti do so immediately.

May we not be indifferent to the suffering of our fellow human beings.

May God give strength to those who suffer, and comfort all those who mourn.

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One Response to “Tears in the Sea”

  1. Esther Zimand Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 4:31 pm #

    Morey, thank you for a beautiful essay. i hope that it will help many people better understand the ways of GD.

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