Writing on the Algemeiner’s web site shortly before Hurricane Sandy hit, Simon Jacobson asked us to consider the “deeper implications” of the catastrophic event.
That includes the "hard-to -ignore coincidence of the hurricane striking the most heavily populated part of the country, including Washington DC, just a week before the Presidential election – winds from above disturbing the final whirlwind campaign efforts of both candidates.”
In the end, Mr. Jaobson posits, perhaps this deadly and devastating tempest was a way for Hashem to flex his muscles and remind us that no matter who wins the election, he’s the One in charge.
That same line of thinking will likely emerge at numerous shuls this Shabbat as rabbis face the unenviable task of making sense from the senseless.
I could get behind this thinking if not for the fact that, as of this writing, nearly 100 people here and in the Carribean have died.
That's at odds with the God we pray to in Hebrew prayers, whom we embrace as merciful, kind and just, and hopefully not the type to wipe out innocent lives, including children, and uproot tens of thousands more just to make a point.
Trying to reconcile the concept of bad things happening to the innocent with God’s plan for the world is an age-old religious challenge. Some religious zealots assume wars and terror attacks happen because some people are gay and others are too tolerant of them. Pro-life politicians assume a pregnancy resulting from the horror of rape had to be God’s plan or it wouldn’t have happened.
It’s rare to find a religious person who has the guts to say that it’s not inconsistent to believe in God and also believe that random chance can lead to such horrible things as natural disasters or accidents, which are sometimes termed "acts of God."
Many people of faith also believe this world is a great laboratory in which our character is being tested to determine if we’re ready to move to the next level of existence, or go back to square one.
Desperate times are the x-factors of such an experiment. On the Titanic there were those who quietly accepted their fate with dignity and those who fought to get on a lifeboat in defiance of the women-and-children-first rule.
During the Holocaust, there were those who risked or gave their lives to help others and those who looked out for themselves first. And of course those who committed or abbetted atrocities.
The cable channel AMC has a surprising hit in “The Walking Dead,” because the show manages to rise above being a campy show about a zombie invasion by focusing on the relationships between the characters and the subtle, unasked questions: How far would you go to survive? Would you sell your soul and your honor to live another day, or always put values first?
During the Hurricane there were numerous opportunities for people to look out for others, just as there were numerous opportunities to be selfish bastards by over-hoarding supplies, shutting doors on neighbors, running noisy generators all night or trying to cut lines at the gas station.
On Tuesday and Wednesday I spent the day exiled from Manhattan, working away from my powerless home at a local Starbuck’s. The crowd of people there made the best of the bad situation by figuring out ways to plug in all their numerous devices to a limited supply of outlets, offering each other tech support to access wi-fi and watching each other’s gear if they had to step outside for a minute.
It was a group of people with whom I’d be glad to share a lifeboat.
As Shabbat approached, my family has been overwhelmed with invitations for meals and/or accomodations. When neighbors had their power turned on, they knocked on our door offering to string over an extension cord to our refigerator.
Maybe Mr. Jacobson is right by urging us to look for the deeper meaning of the storm. But rather than try to know the unknowable about the hand of God, I'd rather take satisfaction in the knowable hands of other human beings.
Which should be very pleasing to God.