Why The Earthquake in Haiti Happened
Since the Earthquake in Haiti many have attempted to figure out “why” the tragedy occurred.
There are 4 prominent versions going around the web right now.
Rabbi Shafran Version 1: God punished the people of Haiti because of evil speech.
Rabbi Shafran Version 2: We don’t know why God punished the people of Haiti but the lesson is that we should learn is not to speak evil speech.
Rabbi Levin: The earthquake and Tsunami and 9/11 happened because of Gays in the military.
Rabbi Feldman: We can’t know why the earthquake happened, but it happened for “a reason”.
What has been missing from this is a more rational approach predicated on the teachings of Rav Yaakov Weinberg Ztz”l Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisrael.
Let’s start with a hypothetical question.
Gerald is driving through the desert. He gets lost and runs out of fuel. He gets out of the car to start walking to find a gas station. He wanders for a little while. Eventually he runs out of water. He dehydrates and eventually dies in the desert.
Why did he die?
That is easy. He died because he ran out of water in a desert. The rules of nature that God created and recreates every moment dictate that when a man has no water in a desert he will dehydrate and probably die shortly thereafter. God does not bend or adjust the rules of nature to save him. Nor should God bend the rules of nature. The relationship God has with the world is that of a hidden God. God hides behind the mask of nature and does not show Himself.
There is a fault line the lies beneath Port Au Prince. It was suggested by geologists in late 2008 that there could be a severe earthquake in Haiti as a result of this fault line. In January 2010 the plates along the fault line shifted. A massive earthquake ensued. Thousands of people died and many more were injured.
Why did they die?
That is also easy. They died because there was an earthquake. The rules of nature that God created and recreates at every moment dictate that when tectonic plates shift it can cause a massive earthquake. God does not bend or adjust the rules of nature to stop the earthquake. Nor should God bend the rules of nature. The relationship God has with the world is that of a hidden God. God hides behind the mask of nature and does not show Himself.
What about the stories in Chumash and Tanach (Old Testament) that report miracles to save individuals or groups of people?
Once in a while God does bend the rules of nature. This is rare and only happens in extreme circumstances. We call this a miracle. It is really a misnomer because everything is a miracle. Nature is a miracle just as much as the supernatural. But we only recognize or would recognize the supernatural miraculous. Miracles can happen, but we don’t rely on miracles nor do we expect miracles as part of the usual system and order of the universe. The universe follows the rules of nature that God created and recreates every moment.
What about the words of Chazal (Talmudic Rabbis) that blame natural disasters on sin?
I can’t answer with certainty but there are a few options:
- For lack of scientific information they did not realize that earthquakes or other phenomena were “natural” and supposed they were supernatural events thus requiring a Divine reason.
- They were referring to a place and time where God did intervene on a constant basis.
- They were speaking polemically and urging Klal Yisrael to improve their ways and as a way of admonishing them they used exegesis to connect disaster with sin.
- They were misquoted or quoted out of context.
Then there is the Rambam. In hilchos Taanis, the Rambam states that when harm befalls the tzibur it incumbent upon klal yisrael to do teshuva and attribute the suffering the “way of the world” rather the bad things that happened were because of their evil sins.
This has been misquoted and misapplied in many instances. The Rambam is talking about a tragedy that happens to the tzibur. The tzibur refers to the Jewish community. So a harm among the a specific Jewish community is the time that we must attribute the harm to OUR sins.
What Rabbis Shafran Version 1, Feldman and Levin are doing is trying to use this Rambam in an instance of a tragedy that befell ANOTHER group of people. The earthquake was not a disaster that happened to the Jewish tzibur. It happened to another tzibur. Thus, the Rambam does not apply.
When would the Rambam apply? At most a tragedy that targets the tzibur. Most strictly constructed it would be when a harm is specific to the Jewish people.
So what are we supposed to do when tragedy strikes? When there is a Hurricane like Katrina, a Tsunami like there was in Southeast Asia or Earthquake like in Haiti?
We work on our compassion. We work on our empathy. We help as much as we can. We remember that life is fleeting and it can all end in a moment. We try to reenergize our relationships. We improve in our avodas Hashem. We find a way to use the tragedy to inspire us. It is personal.
For anyone to assume they know why this tragedy happened fails on three counts.
1) It did not happen to us. It happened to someone else. Do we believe in a God who punishes another party for OUR sins?
2) Maybe it did not happen for a reason? If it was natural then how are you going to apply some sin as the cause for nature? Do you blame sin every time a lion eats a gazelle in the African plain? How about when an innocent bystander is killed by a drunk driver? Did the bystander “deserve it”?
3) Even if it did happen for a reason, who are you to tell me why it happened? You think YOU know? Your puny little brain can figure out why God acts in the way He does? You know all the factors that go into “causing a natural disaster”? At best it is presumptuous at worst it is extreme arrogance bordering on apikorsus.
For anyone to guess why this happened fails on another count.
Nevuah (prophecy) ended thousands of years ago. A Navi (prophet) was like a spiritual doctor, one was able to see a Navi and ask why bad things were happening to you and the Navi could tell you why. The Navi was connected to God. That is over. It ended a long time ago. I am suspect of anyone claiming to know what God is “thinking” because they have no way of knowing.
Trying to pretend like we know why the earthquake happened, even if we assume it happened for a reason, is wrong.
But at least Rabbi Shafran Version 2 and Rabbi Feldman are telling US to improve our lives in the wake of the tragedy.
Only one goofball has the gall to tell OTHER people how to act in response to the tragedy. Only Levin has the audacity to tell the Government of the USA that it’s “their fault” this happened. Only Levin completely abrogates himself and places the blame on something that is external to him and his group.
It is akin to telling a grieving mother that her son who was run over by a car was run over because the lady across the street had an affair. Ridiculous. Irresponsible. Self-righteous. Idiotic. Moronic. (Help me out here… I am sure there are more words…)
In summary, there are varying levels of what I believe to be errors in the wake of this tragedy. The least egregious is trying to figure what the precise message of the earthquake is. The most egregious is telling a 3rd party that they caused the tragedy of another.
My view, as I stated just after the earthquake, and the view of my Rebbeim is that the tragedy was a natural disaster. There was no malicious intent or direct message being sent to the people of Haiti or anyone else for that matter. However, it is useful for us to use the incident as inspiration to improve our lives and live each moment we are fortunate to be alive as a way of making the world a better place.
Postscript: A worthwhile read is Rabbi Dov Kramer’s approach which is very similar to what is written here just comes from a different direction.