For the week ending 19 March 2011 / 12 Adar II 5771

Earthquake in Japan - Then and Now

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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When news of an earthquake in Japan a century ago reached the Radin Yeshiva in Poland, the sainted Chofetz Chaim assembled the students and delivered an inspiring mussar lecture.

This was a lesson we all must learn upon hearing of another earthquake in that same country but far more devastating. While we sympathize with the people of Japan in their hour of suffering, it is incumbent upon us to learn from their disaster.

The truth is that this lesson was delivered millennia ago by the Prophet Tzephaniah who declared in the Name of G-d:

"I have cut off nations; their pinnacles are desolate; I have made their streets waste so that none passes by; their cities are destroyed so that there is no man, there is no inhabitant. I said, surely you will fear me and will learn a lesson." (3:6-7)

The words of the Prophet are quoted in a lecture written during the Middle Ages by the great Talmudic commentator Rabbeinu Nissim who points out that when people fail to learn from the disasters which strike others, they cause such tragedy to come closer to them. One who fails to see natural disasters as a Heavenly warning and fails to make any improvements, he concludes, is comparable to one who has sinned after being warned and thus exposes himself to retribution.

How appropriate to the current disaster is the clarion call of this same author:

"Sometimes things happen in faraway places, in distant islands, so that people should be aroused to self-improvement because of the fear that such tragedy could strike them as well."

May we merit to learn the lesson delivered by G-d, explained by the Prophet and echoed by our Sages throughout the generations, so that we will be spared from seeing such events come closer to home.

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