It is fortunately a rare occasion in our modern world that we get a chance to experience a disaster of “biblical” proportions. Events that wipe out entire cities and displace hundreds of thousands of people do not occur often. That the death total from the catastrophic events in Japan does not number well into the tens of thousands is a testament to the advances of modernity. Yet, the events themselves, the destruction that it brought not only through the powerful earthquake, the Tsunami, and now potential nuclear disaster, demand that we remember that though humanity has become powerful, the forces of nature are vastly more so.
What is God’s role in disasters? While there are no few passages linking disaster to punishment, some in our tradition see the role of God in a disaster as helping the survivors, not as causing the destruction or the suffering for any reason. As we see in First Kings:
There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of God; but God was not in the wind. After the wind- an earthquake; but God was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake-fire; but God was not in the fire. After the fire- a still, small voice. (I Kings 19:11-12)
According to First Kings, God did not cause the destruction, but is in the still small voice, that is present after it. As we witness the suffering and the destruction, as we respond to the needs of others, that still small voice within us urges us to reach out, give help, bring joy and elevate spirits.
May we shed tears,
May we feel compassion,
May we imagine ourselves and our loves ones in their places, and
May we use our blessings to help those in need.
When we confront terrible problems, when the scope of a disaster seems so great that it is beyond our comprehension, beyond our ability to grasp it in its entirety, let us remember the words of Rabbi Tarfon:
It is not up to you to finish the work, but neither may you avoid doing any of it.
May each of us help.
O God, bring comfort to the people of Japan, solace to those who have lost loved ones, hope to those who face darkness and challenge in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.
May the one who causes Shalom to reign on high, cause Shalom to descend upon us, upon Israel, upon all the peoples of the world and let us say, Amen.