Man-Made Disasters

"Therefore, we shall not be afraid when the earth is transformed, and at mountains' collapse in the heart of the seas; when its waters rage and are muddied, mountains quake in His majesty...." (Psalm 46)

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Ellen W. Horowitz

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"Therefore, we shall not be afraid when the earth is transformed, and at mountains' collapse in the heart of the seas; when its waters rage and are muddied, mountains quake in His majesty...." (Psalm 46)

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that we need not be afraid when the earth undergoes violent change, because the catastrophes and surging waters are G-d's floods. And it is He "that rules them, that causes and guides them...."

Okay, I'll concede that earthquakes and tsunamis belong to G-d, and that He's in control. But the images of suffering and magnitude of the devastation still frightens me and overwhelms the senses.

I imagine there are two types of individuals who didn't absolutely quake at the destruction that instantaneously hit ten countries in Southeast Asia this week. They are those people in possession of complete and unwavering faith in G-d (a rare and endangered breed), and those who are struck by blind apathy (the world's got a surplus of them). The rest of us are simply scared and shaken.

I guess I've pretty much covered earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons and tsunamis in my previous writings (see "Shell-Shocked, But Hopeful" and "The Infinite Scream"). There's not much we can do about these events, other than to mourn, offer assistance and comfort, meditate on the state of humanity and of ourselves, and to pick up the shattered pieces and rebuild.

When G-d overturns our world, whether it be on a personal or universal scale, there is nothing to analyze, intellectualize or say. "And Aaron was silent." (Leviticus 10:3) But in our silence, there is plenty to ponder. And it is incumbent upon us to do all we can to prevent another disaster, whether that be the development of technological warning systems, better construction techniques, or trying to improve ourselves and humanity through altruistic efforts and prayer. Aaron was silent after Divinely-ordained tragedy struck, but Mordechai screamed in order to prevent a man-made atrocity from happening.

There is something I fear far more than natural disasters. Man-made disasters blow my mind. Because, unlike G-d, we mortals are not perfect. Our plans and designs are inherently flawed and the damage we cause tends to reach beyond our control and there are no guarantees of our ability to ultimately rectify what we've ruined.

We mere humans were put on this earth to build and create. It's beyond our realm to do anything but. The only time it is permissible for us to destroy is when evil raises its ugly head. Then, because we are commanded to choose life, we are under obligation to obliterate that which would destroy us.

Now, we have all seen the horrors, grief and suffering brought about when the hand of G-d wipes away entire communities. Tragedy of this sort is unfathomable, incomprehensible and untouchable. So, why would any human in his right mind aspire towards those ends - even on a small scale?

It is the absolute antithesis of humanity to voluntarily uproot a creative and productive endeavor. It is the height of insanity to displace a thriving population and hand what remains of their endeavors and inheritance over to destructive forces. And yet, for the most part, we remain silent and allow our prime minister, Ariel Sharon, to proceed with his deranged Gaza "disengagement" plan.

A year ago, in response to the earthquake that struck Iran and killed 31,000 people, I wrote about a natural disaster that occurred in Indonesia in 1883 and triggered tsunamis that killed 40,000 people. It seems, at the time, the event turned the sky red over Oslo and may have inspired Edvard Munch to paint his masterpiece "The Scream".

Four months ago, that painting, which captured the existential fear and scream of humanity, was stolen by masked gunman from the museum in Oslo, Norway.

Back here in Israel, it seems that the masked gunmen of Oslo have managed to silence our screams. It appears we've lost our voice, and that has the makings of a man-made tragedy of immense proportions.


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