For the week ending 23 January 2010 / 7 Shevat 5770

It Can't Happen Here

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
Reflections on the Haiti Earthquake from a Torah Perspective
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"Sometimes things happen in faraway places, in distant islands, so that we should be aroused to self-improvement because of their fear that such tragedy could strike them as well."

Thus wrote the great Talmudic commentator, Rabbeinu Nissim, some seven hundred years ago in one of his sermons.

The tragedy of the earthquake in Haiti, which caused death and injury to hundreds of thousands and left three million homeless, certainly sent a tsunami of emotional shock waves throughout the world. It is gratifying to see the tremendous efforts being made by so many nations, including Israel, to help the victims of the earthquake. But compassion and humane aid, as vital as they are, must not be the only reaction of mankind to so monumental a tragedy.

Can it not be expected of man to learn from this totally unexpected disaster that despite all of his technological progress he is still not in command; that what he cowardly calls "natural disaster" is really a demonstration that the Creator of the world is very much still in command?

Upon experiencing an earthquake one is obligated by halacha (Jewish law) to say either a blessing in which he declares that G-d is the Creator of the world, or one that expresses his recognition of G-d's power felt throughout the world. (Mesechta Berachot 59a; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 127)

Such a blessing is the immediate reaction of a Jew, and the recognition it expresses should be that of all mankind. But it must be followed by serious reflection on the fallacy of the human conceit that "it can't happen here".

It is to be hoped that every person will learn the lesson of which Rabbeinu Nissim wrote, and will be inspired to make himself a better person in a better world.

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