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October 31, 2012 12:16 pm

Where Was God When Hurricane Sandy Struck?

avatar by Shmuley Boteach

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Hurricane Sandy.

What was G-d thinking when he sent Hurricane Sandy and what could have been its purpose? In truth, I don’t much care, because our role as humans is not to understand G-d’s plan in the face of horror and tragedy, but to challenge God and demand that human life always be protected and preserved. Did I say demand?

Yes, humanity has rights before G-d. We are His children. He commanded us to preserve and promote life always. “Choose life,” Moses orders the Israelite nation in God’s name, on the last day of His life. And the Creator must abide by the same dictates He expects His creatures to. Reading The New York Times story today about the approximately 39 people who died in the storm, I was sick to my stomach. I read it out loud to my kids over our candlelit dinner in a home with no electricity or heat. They could not listen any more.

There was the Manhattan woman whose only sin was to walk her dog and was killed by a falling tree. There was the woman whose iniquity was to take a picture of a downed power line. She did not see the puddle in front of her. Her body, the Times reported, was on fire for half an hour before rescue workers could salvage what was left of her. There was the young Jewish couple killed walking a dog in Brooklyn. There were the two boys in New York state killed when they walked just outside their house to peer at the storm briefly. Did any of these people deserve to die?

In the face of these natural disasters there are always those who are trying to divine the mind of God when really their role as humans is to argue with G-d. That’s exactly what the name Israel means, He who wrestles with G-d. Isn’t that what Abraham does in this week’s Torah reading where he raises his fist to the heavens and proclaims, in the face of God’s announcement that he is destroying all the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, “Will the judge of the entire earth not Himself practice justice?”

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Would God really allow the righteous to die along with the wicked? Is this not also what Moses says to God after he is told that the Jews will be annihilated for the sin of the Golden calf? If you do so, says the great prophet, “then I beseech you, erase my name from the Torah You have written.” And when God had earlier sent Moses to free the Jews from Egypt but Pharaoh had instead intensified their suffering and servitude, Moses, defiant, says to God, “Why have you behaved wickedly to this people, and why have you sent me… You have thus far not saved Your people.”

The role of human beings in the face of seemingly divine miscarriages of justice is to hold God accountable and demand clemency for humanity. God is all powerful. He does not need a defense attorney. But humans are fragile and vulnerable and they need all the protection they can get. Today me, my family, and our campaign staff toured the devastation of our district. We saw cities deluged in flood waters, homes with trees crashed down on their roofs. We witnessed long lines of cars of people trying to buy gas, including tens of people with gas canisters waiting in line for hours. And as far as our campaign is concerned, it has been reduced to me and our staff sitting in the Garden State Mall tonight plugged into a single outlet on the floor trying to charge our laptops and phones. All this is an inconvenience and, God willing, we’ll dig out. But the people who buried children, the residents who will never again see a spouse, the citizens who mourn parents—my God, my God, what are they to do?

I have grown weary of those who say that suffering is somehow redemptive, that it carries with it a positive outcome. I do not deny that this is at times so. Those who suffer can sometimes emerge humbler, wiser, gentler. But let’s get real. There is nothing beneficial that comes from suffering that could have not been achieved far more effectively through a positive means. To the contrary, suffering leaves us broken and cynical, disbelieving and forlorn, miserable and depressed.  It is time we human beings agreed to wage an all out war on suffering so that it is never excused as something blessed again.  Never again should we say that earthquakes in Haiti are caused by a compact the Haitians had earlier made with the devil. Never again should we say that Israeli soldiers die because Kibbutznikim eat rabbit and other non-kosher meat. Never again should we say that innocent Palestinians, who are used as human shields by the terrorist monsters of Hamas and Hezbollah, die because of the wrath of Allah. And never again must we say that the Jews of the holocaust died because they wanted to be cease being Jewish, choosing to be German instead.

Because I am disgusted with this kind of thought, I wrote a full-length book that is to be published in November called The Fed-Up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. But I could not have divined, when I wrote it, that the place I live would have experienced such immense devastation.

The Bible in Deuteronomy is clear. “The hidden things are for G-d to understand, but the revealed things are for us and our children.” Why G-d allows good people to suffer is a secret known to him. But we human beings ought to have no interest in knowing the secret. What we want, what we demand, is that the suffering stop completely so that God and humanity can finally be reconciled, after a long history of human travail and agony, in a bright and blessed future, bereft of suffering, absent of tragedy, and filled with blessing.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the Republican Candidate for Congress in New Jersey’s Ninth Congressional District. The international best-selling author of 28 books, his newest work is “Kosher Jesus”. Next month he will publish “The Fed-Up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @Rabbishmuley. His website is www.shmuleyforcongress.com.

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  • ruth housman

    I read this, and I can say, we all have this same problem, and it’s what makes atheists honest. No, I don’t think the author is off kilter in saying it, like it IS, in his way. In fact I think a lot of people feel the sway in all this, as surely, what he recounts is awful and the offal of this, namely the real dirt, is that we have to ask, questions, or we wouldn’t be human, and humanity in terms of the notion of tikkun olam is an imperative for anyone who cares, about the terrible condition of the world. It wasn’t great to see Haitians knee deep in water once again, and there are many pictures that do make us agonize about what we still call, whether we believe it or not, Acts of God.

    When you experience something like coincidence, what people call those instances that suddenly become emergent and make us wonder, at least for a moment, who is really running the show, it becomes apparent there is something more… But then we forget and chug on. But what if, someone were experiencing not a little but massive ongoing coincidence, as is happening in this small life? Yes, it’s a blessing and also a curse. Life is bipolar, or haven’t you noticed? The word cruel is also aurally crewel, for embroidery, and cleave means to come close and also to slice in half. Language reflects these polarities, and it does seem, whether we like it or not, that we live in a totally bipolar universe. And yes, we have what was once called manic depressive illness, too, and the North and South Poles… however you cut a magnet you get positive/negative charges.

    So this charge, about God, and who is leading the charge, seems to be also carrying a deep truth, and it could be, we’re meant to ask even THAT question, to challenge God. Those of us who are believers. And the answer: we go to the Wall on this one. The paradox is too great. God is so everywhere and NOT. And… KNOT. Language carries the keys. And I AM, whether you like it or not, taking a walk across Babel, in all that I do and write. Because what I am gifted to see: is just this, how, In the Beginning was the WORD.

    Whether it’s a Jewish “thing” or not, is irrelevant. It simply IS. And this lets no one off the hook. All we can do, when mourning comes, as it does, to us all, is ask deep questions or simply Let it be. As the Beatles sang it: There will be an answer. Let it be. Let it be.

  • As you stated, the the hidden things are for G-d to understand but the blasphemy, idol worship and antisemitism toward G-d, His people and His land are plain to see. How dare we question G-d, a loving father who gave us His Torah to help us not to stumble and His Son to die for us to take away the condemnation when we return to Him in repentance. We are proud and arrogant and think we know better, and all He wants is to dwell with us. I urge you to consider that the life He wills for us is with Him in eternity and not to build our kingdom here on this monument to mankind. It is us that is not abiding in His dictates as the state of the world is currently demonstrating. Pray for those poor people and fall on our faces to ask forgiveness to a righteous and Holy G-d.

  • CHRISTOPHER SEEVIRATE: IT IS *YOU* THAT
    REJECTED THE ‘ONE GD OF EVERYTHING’
    Your name is praising something that is hated in Judaism and a violation of the 1st and 2nd commandment.

    Your namesake is responsible or the cause for the killing of millions upon millions, all for his honor.

    The xtian church has decimated peoples cultures lands families and created the most horrendous tortures known to mankind.

    AND YOU WANT TO TELL THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY HAVE DONE?

    WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO FIX THINGS IN YOUR IMMEDIATE SURROUNDINGS.Start with replacing your name,erasing the memories we have of daily sufferings from your xtian people to this very day.

  • Lawrence Kulak

    As usual, Shmuely Boteach (I wont even say Rabbi) is using his intelligence to try to reinvent the wheel and ask questions that have been given answers by people far superior to him. Well, if it provides him means to support his nine children all power to him because that is no doubt vitally important. But if Shmuely wants to ‘get real’ as he says, why doesn’t he simply recognize that for some people, EVERDAY is a like a Hurricane Sandy. The fact that some had to do without conveniences for a few days while their bank accounts were still in tact only means that they were given a few days to experience what the other half feels. How about it being for the purpose of learning to appreciate life and not take it for granted? Is that too much of an incomprehensible purpose for Shmuely to advocate the endurance of a little suffering?
    Boteach does not really want to get real, he only says so. what he wants is to get UNreal and to continue to question and provoke G-d by stirring up controversy in Orthodoxy. years ago, Boteach ridiculed the amount of noise being made in protest of an Israeli Gay Parade, asking if it were more an important issue than terrorism. well, to Hashem maybe it is, and that is the entire point. Boteach wants to play G-d and decide what should be important. Let him concentrate instead on getting elected and seeing to it that his books continue to sell.

  • Chaya

    Moshe Rabeinu said, “Ribbono Shel Olam, You have shown me his Torah, show me his reward.”
    “Look behind you.”
    Moshe saw them weighing his flesh [Rebbi Akiva’s] in the meat market.
    “Ribbono Shel Olam, Zu Torah V’Zu Scharah?!?” – This is Torah and this is its reward?!?”
    “Quiet! Such is the thought that arises before me.” (Menachos 29b)

    My heart goes out to all those who lost loved ones and homes in the storm. How can this possibly be understood?
    G-d is unfathomable.

  • Lillian Freedman

    Well said! I am in Toronto. If I lived there I would be voting for you.

  • Nice idea, rabbi. But, of course, G-d laughs at you for having thought it and written it. G-d has His own ways in mind and you and others aren’t about to change them. We human have yet to reconcile ourselves to personal and unexplained loss in this world. Other than the establishment of the State of Israel as an effect of WWII, I know of little else that could condone the loss of life the occurred because of it. Was such loss of life a requisite for its formation and survival through its wars? Probably. Imagine the loss of life that occurred through 40 years of wandering through the desert! More than one entire generation passed away while doing so.

    Being “G-d’s Chosen People ” may come with many benefits, but there are just enough detractions to satisfy the “non chosen” among us that their hatred for us is kept within livable limits. (Well…at least…MOST of the time!) As I said at the beginning, , and I’m sure you already knew this” “God has His own ways…”

  • Christopher Seneviratne

    AMERICA HAS REJECTED GOD. SO NATURALLY AMERICA DOES NOT HAVE THE PROTECTION OF GOD, AMERICA HAS REMOVED THE HEDGES SURROUNDING HER THEN WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT WHEN AMERICA HAS A MUSLIM PRESIDENT.

  • Ed Greenberg

    G-d gave us a world with all the needs of life. Food, water, resources, etc. He also gave us weather, gravity, and both yetzer tov and yetzer harah.

    So when bad things happen, it’s because we live in a world with sharp edges and breakable objects. Our world is active , atmospherically, tectonically, etc.

    So my answer is, because we don’t live in Gan Eden, that’s why.

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