In this week’s parsha, we read one of the difficult portions of the Torah to stomach from an emotional perspective – the Tochacha – a long list of terrible events and punishments that will happen to the Jewish people. The Torah describes unthinkable and almost unconscionable types of destruction and human disgrace- cannibalism, starvation, captivity and murder. While the Torah explains that these punishments are retributions for not listening to the ways of the Torah, it is still difficult to wrap one’s mind around the notion that any good person – particularly the members of G-d’s chosen nation - is deserving being a recipient of such behavior.
There is a concept with regard to a Chok – mitzvos that we do not understand the reason behind them e.g. kashrus, the Red Heifer. In the middle of the winter, we read that Moshe asked G-d, “Let me know your ways.” G-d responded, “You can see My back.” We cannot understand the way G-d operates. He exists in another dimension of thought that is beyond us. Just as we cannot appreciate a piece of art from up close, so too, we cannot understand the logic behind G-d’s thinking – both in His blessing and in His wrath.
Some people may try to provide a reason for the Holocaust. How could a nation so progressive and cultured have perpetrated the atrocity of murdering eleven million innocent people. In the times of the great Prophets of Israel and the Talmud, the great men back then were privy to why certain events occurred. In our time, we do not have that information. Therefore, nobody can tell you why events occur. People might make assumptions, but they cannot say that they know the reason. We do not have the ability to read G-d’s mind. An individual might try to learn a personal lesson from events that occur and resolve to correct some of his shortcomings. After all, we are human and make mistakes. So, that can be for an individual. But, that individual certainly cannot point fingers at why others suffer.
We are not immune to calamities. Why all the natural disasters in the past few years? That is a question that human beings cannot answer. It is a Chok. We cannot read G-d’s mind.
However, what should become clear to us is that despite all the technological and scientific advances, there is nothing we can do to stop the weather or the earthquakes. We are powerless against both of them. They are beyond our control and that should give us pause to realize that we are not in charge in the world.
And that is what we say during the “U’N’Saneh Tokef prayer on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, “who by fire . . . who by water . . . who by earthquake . . . who by pestilence.” G-d is the writer of the script and the director of the movie and everything goes according to His plan. He is the King and what He says, goes.
So, why do natural disasters occur? We do not know. However, at this time of the year we most certainly must reflect upon the events that are happening around the world and pay close attention to them. There is some message that each one of us should be able to take away from these events. That message might not be the reason for the event, but that does not mean that I cannot learn something from it.
As the year 5778 is drawing to a close and the new year of 5779 will dawn upon us, we ask G-d – as we say in our prayers – “may the year and its curses end, and may the new year and its blessings begin.”