How does a Jew understand the deadly tsunami that killed more than 20,000 people in Japan? Is it just another natural catastrophe or is it a Divine message, like the Biblical Flood, the Tower of Babel and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah? Is there a common thread with Purim?
Jews face a challenge of retaining the responsibility of retaining the ideas of “messianism and universalism,” says U.S.-born Israeli Rabbi Moshe Taragin.
“When Arabs hand out candies after terrorist attacks, such as the savage stabbings of a Rabbi Udi and Ruth Fogel and three of their six young children, including a baby, at Itamar last week, they are presenting a G-d of anger and hate,” he told Israel National News.
“G-d is compassionate and there is no happiness in Heaven when people die. We have to feel the tragedy and loss of any life, and we have to sympathize on a deep personal level,” he adds.
Israelis for the first time in history live a national life as well as a religious life, Rabbi Taragin points out. He says that despite Arab terror, "We have to remember are meant to inspire an entire world, and when it suffers, we have a universal responsibility. It is a challenge to be nationalist to understand that our national ambitions are meant to inspire and bring welfare to an entire world. Our nationalism can convince us that all goyim are terrorists.”
Is the tsunami a message from the Creator that a certain sin is plaguing the world?
Rabbi Taragin says there is a difference between the reactions of a direct victim and a bystander, “For a victim, it can be a wake-up call to inspect their lives and identify areas for improvement. But for people on the sidelines to decide why G-d sent a hurricane or tsunami, or why a suicide bomber struck, it is "theologically bankrupt and morally repugnant” to start pointing fingers while people are suffering.
“Trying to decide why G-d acts through catastrophes is “an insult to G-d and morally is monstrous.” he adds.
The rabbi explains that we live in a world in which the presence of the Creator has been veiled by high-technology, science and a false sense of security that we determine everything. These tragic events remind us how fragile our world is. As stable and secure the world seems to be, it is a facade because it is G-d who is sustaining us.”
On a national and historic level, it is easy to fall onto a feeling if weakness and pessimism, in today's times, Rabbi Taragin says, because “conditions in the world do not always smile upon or support our dreams.”
However, he states that tragedies that wreak destruction and bring suffering sometimes “remind us that part of our dream is the intervention of G-d, who delivers a persecuted nation. We must realize that the world can change in a flash through the hand of G-d and even if the world seems against us we are never too distant from our visions.”
Rabbi Taragin’s response brings to mind the miracle of Purim, relating the topsy-turvy events that in a matter of days saved the Jewish community of Persia from what seemed certain death at the hands of the wicked Haman.
Instead, a "spiritual tsunami” drowned Haman’s plot, resulting in his being hanged, while Queen’ Esther’s uncle Mordecai, who was hours away from execution, was elevated to the second in command to King Ahasverous.