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When The Earth Moves

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This day in history: 501 C.E., the coastal city of Acco (Israel) was destroyed in an earthquake.

One of the blessings recited every morning is: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who spreads the earth above the waters.” This blessing expresses our gratitude to God for making the ground beneath our feet firm.

Unfortunately, as we all know only too well, the earth is not always firm!

The sages of the Talmud teach us that upon witnessing “shooting stars, earthquakes, thunderclaps, storms and lightning, one should say, Blessed be He whose strength and might fill the world” (Berachot 54a).

A few pages further (59a), the Talmud relates that Rabbi Kattina was once walking past the house of a necromancer (one who summons information from the dead) when the earth rumbled. He asked if the necromancer knew the source of the rumbling, to which the necromancer replied: “When the Holy One, blessed be He, calls to mind His children, who are suffering greatly…He lets fall two tears into the ocean, and the sound is heard from one end of the world to the other, and that is the rumbling.” Rabbi Kattina dismissed this answer and stated that: “[God] claps His hands, as it says: ‘I will also smite my hands together, and I will satisfy my fury (Ezekiel 21:22).’”

Rabbi Kattina is apparently suggesting that an earthquake is a sign of God’s displeasure with humankind’s actions that is directed through the relatively limited destructiveness of an earthquake compared to punishing all of humanity.

It is impossible for mortals to fully comprehend the issue of Divine theodicy. It is, however, the responsibility of each of us to react to tragedies with love and compassion, and to help where we can. We must, of course, also examine our own behaviors to see how we can make the world a better place.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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