Plain Meanings - Complex Texts

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Rabbi Yehiel Poupko is bridging the gap between old Jewish books and contemporary realities.

Plain Meanings - Complex Texts

Sandy and God

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As I write these lines, six of my grandchildren in the New York Metropolitan area are without power.  It is getting cold.  Their day school was flooded by God's Atlantic Ocean. No one knows when it will re-open.  Their capable school staff and parent body are scrambling to find classroom space in local synagogues.  What are we to make of God and Sandy? 

Eight years ago after the Asian Tsunami which killed more than 230,000 people, the Chicago Tribune asked several area clergy a simple question:  What is the response of a believer to cataclysmic natural events?  My response was conditioned by other responses that made headlines around the world.  Some clergy of several faiths declared that the Tsunami was sent by God as punishment for a variety of sins.  At that time, I wrote that no one can know such a thing unless God has appointed him or her a prophet, and then told them the reason for the Tsunami.  We Jews believe that Almighty God spoke with our ancestors, especially Moses at Sinai. We also believe that God  has not spoken with anyone since the prophet Malachai in the sixth century BCE.  After the destruction of the First Temple, prophecy ends.  If we want to know the mind of God we look it up in the Torah and the Talmud and the codes. These tell us what to do in all of life's situations. The Torah and the Talmud do not tell us how to interpret contemporary events in nature or history. This article was, at the time, criticized by both Christian and Jewish fundamentalists. 

The fact is that according to the Jewish tradition no one today can assert that they know the mind of God about any natural event, or any event in history. What God has instructed us is found in the Torah and in the way the Torah is explained to us in the Talmud and other great works.  The response to any natural disaster is two-fold.  We are given the mitzva to help the suffering. We are given the instruction to learn how nature works (that is called science) to the end that we can protect ourselves from the mighty forces of nature.  The question then for a good Jew is not, why is this happening?, but rather, now that something awful and mysterious has happened what are my God given imperatives?  The answer to that is well known. 

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