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.