Lessons from Katrina


Someone forwarded a letter to me — unfortunately without the signature — by some pundit “explaining” that Katrina hit New Orleans because Louisiana is the home state of Condoleeza Rice. This catastrophic hurricane with all its attendant loss of life and property is punishment for Condoleeza Rice’s “forcing” Israel to abandon Gaza.

Probably it isn’t even necessary to comment on such convoluted reasoning, but I will anyway. First of all, Condi Rice is a lifelong, very warm and very vocal friend of Israel. And needless to say, Sharon’s four-year, single-minded program of imposing a unilateral “solution” to the Arab question long predates her accession to the State Department. Second of all, if she was really the cause of the hurricane, then Divine wrath should have struck Washington and not New Orleans. In fact, there should have been a fire in her own personal kitchen. Why are all these other people suffering for her?!

Aside from all of that, the larger question of understanding G-d’s ways cannot be addressed by facile and ad hoc “reasoning” like that of my unknown correspondent. The entire Book of Koheles addresses the question of the suffering of the righteous, and concludes that human beings can never fully fathom G-d’s ways.

There is no question that a blow like Katrina will hit the whole country and not just New Orleans, Biloxi and Gulfport. One can easily point to a long list of sins committed by America and say this one or that one must be “the reason.” The left might say it’s because we unlawfully removed Saddam from his rightful position as beloved leader of his innocent country. The right (with rather more sense) might say it’s because of the pornography and immorality that pollute the land. It’s always a good idea, when tragedy strikes, to examine one’s deeds and repent. But no one really knows “the” reason.

Furthermore, every single individual who lost his life or his home was struck for his own separate reason, known only to G-d. For one person it might have been a punishment for deeds known only to himself, while for another person it might have been simply his time to die, because his mission on earth was complete. Why G-d saved certain individuals and allowed others to die is simply beyond our ability to know or even to conjecture.

There are certain classic Jewish responses to catastrophes, and all of these are appropriate. One such response, as I said, is to consider one’s deeds and repent. This can be done privately by each and every person whose heart is moved by scenes of great suffering.

Another classic Jewish response is the urge to do chessed, to make donations and to help suffering victims in any way possible.

And still another classic Jewish response is to pray for the welfare of those in need of succor. Although we do not understand G-d’s ways we do believe that He hears our tefillos. In Pirkei Avos we are exhorted to “pray for the peace of the kingdom.” In particular, when we have been the beneficiaries of such a malchus shel chessed, a government and a country that has been incredibly good and generous to us Jews, it behooves us to pray for the welfare of this country, and especially so in this hour of tragedy.

Finally, it is possible to learn any number of lessons from seeing what is unfolding. Anyone whose home is intact and whose family is safe should be moved to gratitude for the daily Divine goodness that we take for granted. And anyone who looked on with equanimity at the sight of thousands of Jews being uprooted from their homes in Gaza — anyone who said to himself, “Well, thank goodness I’m safe in America and not in Israel” — should realize that safety and security are guaranteed nowhere.

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Yehouda Toledano
10 years 23 days ago

Hello and Shavoua Tov.

I couldn’t resist and not sending few world.
I heard, personally from Rav chazkel Levinstein Zatsal, that today—35 years ago—we are at the second generation of total “amei aratsut” in “hashkafa”, imagine what he would have said now-days!!!

Well, the Talmud said: “Ein pouranut baa laolam ela bishvil Yisrael”, which mean that it’s not for them but for us to learn and “do tsouhva”!!!
The “Maor vashemes”, explain that if we don’t make tshouva is like we made it appears like HKBH, “kaviachol” did something wrong “chas veshalom”!!!! Because they are not in the “business of tshouva”, so it looks a bad thing—and we know that HKBH don’t do such things!

What happened in Sodom, it is written that is because Sodom is in “Erets Yisrael”, and the “maboul” was before “klal Yisrael” appeared in stage.

In any case the only conclusion that we can and have to arrive, is that we have to make teshouva! Nothing else, we are playing with fire! Even Iyov’s friends where punished when they tried to find a “reason”, and they probably where Tsadikim! So, how we are going to find the reason, or/and why there, and why this way.
Just one little thought: are the poor more responsible than the riche, in the US?

Rav chazkel Levinstein Zatsal also said, that if we don’t learn from catastrophes that occurs around the world it’s really mean that: we are happy about them!!!

Sorry for my bad English

Besorot Tovot

Yehouda Toledano

10 years 27 days ago

“the levees that failed were precisely those that had most recently been shored up at major expense and with maximum engineering expertise”

Major expense, yes. Maximum expertise? I’m not so sure. This was NO, after all. Maybe it’s a good thing they didn’t have the money to do the whole system, or it might all have collapsed…

In any case, I believe that the levees on Lake Pontchartrain and the canals leading to it weren’t the responsibility of the Army Corps of Engineers, but of the Orleans Parish Levee Board. So any federal budget cuts wouldn’t affect it anyway. The ACE handled the levees on the Mississippi, which all held.

Oh, and Condoleeza Rice isn’t from Louisiana, she’s from Alabama. Birmingham, specifically. And as far as I can tell, the only way Katrina affected Birmingham was by flooding it…with refugees.

10 years 27 days ago

WADR, I think you’re viewing this backwards.

What’s abnormal about all this is not the devistation of Katrina. It’s that — quite miraculously — G-d prevented this from happening years ago. What is so surprising about the flooding of a coastal city that is built on bayou below sea level?

“All is in the hands of heaven except colds and heatstroke.” If you go outside in subfreezing winter in a bathing suit, do you look for what message Hashem was giving you when you susequently get a cold?

If there are lessons to be learned it’s about valuing human life enough to be better prepared. It’s about how to care for the poor, so that people won’t be forced to live on onsuitable land, etc..

Austin W. Fergusson
10 years 29 days ago

““Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 1:18-20)

Many are looking at the disaster and are trying to affix blame on some other human cause, some other human agency, some other human. Somehow, if we can do that, we protect ourselves from G-d. We don’t have to recognize or admit to G-d’s supremacy. We don’t have to consider that maybe, for our sins, G-d’s hand is against us (verse 25).

So we will not examine the possibility that by our own disobedience we have become enemies of G-d. In the instance quoted above, Isaiah gives us G-d’s word that His hand was against Jerusalem! If He could call Jerusalem his foe and enemy and turn His hand against her…

Unfortunately, then we also cannot see His solution of our being willing and obedient. And if God has permitted the destruction, we should cry out to G-d for deliverance, as David cried out in the Psalms. If we recognize where disaster originates (even the English word recognizes a super-human origin), then we will look to the Source for healing and relief, and He will give us the wisdom and the strength to care for one another and to be obedient.