McCain, Hagee, and the Earthquake in China

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[The following article first appeared in the May 29th edition of Jewish World Review , a site that does enormous good in putting Jews and traditional Jewish values in a positive light in front of hundreds of thousands of users, Jewish and non-Jewish. I’ve written elsewhere
about my enthusiasm for Binyamin Jolkovsky’s work. In deference to the way his site works, I’m reproducing the first part of the piece below, but to continue on, you will have to follow the link at the end.]

John Hagee doesn’t have an anti-Semitic bone in his body, despite what he said about the Holocaust. It is a shame that John McCain saw fit to distance himself from him. Neither of them, nor anyone else we know, caused the earthquake in China. A common thread ties all these people and events together.

The caller to my office was not typical of those who call for assistance. He was not Jewish, and calling from an area well outside the Los Angeles vicinity.

The Kotel webcam was down, and he had the implications figured out. There are websites that allow you to place a virtual kvitel (a prayer written on a scrap of paper) in the Wailing Wall, and he used it often. Someone he was close to needed Divine assistance. What better way to ask for it than to place a request at the holy Wall?

Actually, it was a truck that needed assistance. The truck had seen better times, and its owner depended on it for a livelihood. He could not afford costly repairs, nor could he be without a vehicle in good working order. Hence, the special request from on High.

The problem was that some person or persons in China had hacked into the website, causing the Wailing Wall section to go down. A message left by the site owners made that known, but did not tell the user when service would be restored. The truck couldn’t wait.

That, however, was not the reason for the urgency in the caller’s voice. “Rabbi, within a few hours of the Chinese hacking into the webcam site, the earthquake struck. Rabbi, no one should mess with G-d or His Wall!”

Too many people can’t bring themselves to pray for pedestrian items like a vehicle chassis. Does G-d really want to be bothered with matters of such little consequence? My caller would dismiss such concerns. His simple, genuine faith places G-d at the center of all phenomena, large and small. If it is happening, it is G-d’s doing and G-d’s business. Who else should be asked for assistance?

An occupational hazard of that kind of pure faith is thinking that one recognizes not only His presence, but His purpose and intent. Someone in China tampers with His earthly abode. An earthquake follows in short order. It is tempting or suggestive that they are linked, even if there is no evidence of this, and the implications about G-d’s lashing out at groups for the sins of a few are frightful. (Alternatively, a terror attack takes lives in a building that did not have kosher mezuzahs, or shortly after some public desecration of the Sabbath. People whose beards connote sagacity quickly share their certainty with the public that we just know why G-d has punished those people. You don’t have to be non-Jewish to make the mistake of reading G-d’s mind.)

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10 Responses

  1. Raymond says:

    The things that Rabbi Adlerstein discusses in his article, are ones that I have personally heard from him in his various Torah classes I have attended. Definitely food for thought.

    What he said is probably almost common sense , but I suspect that many, many Jews of even the most religious kind, have not reached the level of theological sophistication that he has expressed here. John Hagee is not the only one who has connected the dots between historical events and their seeming consequences, unjustifiably presuming to know G-d’s Mind.

    And, I feel vindicated for the other part of Rabbi Adlerstein’s equation, the part about the theological error involved in ascribing only good things in life to G-d. I have long wondered, for example, that if it is because of G-d that I will have become a professional success, does that mean I also get to blame G-d if I am a professional failure? I rarely hear that part from religious Jews.

    In any case, I think it is absurd to expect John Hagee to understand all this. He is without question a great man to be admired and appreciated; thank G-d for such people, for these people help define what is so uniquely wonderful about the United States of America. But John Hagee is not a Rabbi; he did not study in a yeshiva; he does not know the intricacies of Rashi, Maimonidies, Nachmanidies, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, or any of the other countless Torah giants in our history.

    I recall hearing that while Maimonidies acknowledged that Aristotle was the wisest of all gentiles, that he was still a pagan, whose wisdom simply could not stand up to Torah wisdom. Let us not expect more of John Hagee than Maimonidies expected of Aristotle, the greatest of all secular philosophers.

    As for John McCain, while I do believe he is the one man that can stop America from becoming a third-world nation as it drops its support for Israel (that is, if G-d forbid Obama becomes President), I was very, very disappointed when he distanced himself from John Hagee. It cast some doubt in my mind about the intensity of John McCain’s support for our Jewish State of Israel.

  2. Daniel Shain says:

    “The issue of where and where not hashagach peratis applies is fascinating and complex. I don’t think, however, that it is relevant.”

    Thank you for your response. While the issue of hashgacha pratis may not be immediately relevant to Rabbi Addlerstein’s main point (that we cannot “connect the dots” and fully understand Gd’s intentions, and that we also cannot remove Gd from the issue of evil or posit another deity of evil chas v’shalom) it does help define the middle ground. As Rabbi Addlestein says: “While He may not be the immediate cause of an evil act, He tolerates it.” He also tolerates seemingly random acts, like accidents, even when no “evil” seems involved. For example, Rabbi Chaim Friedlander discusses a good person who drowns on a sinking ship with a group of reshaim. The good person is not a tzadik and does not merit Divine intervention to save him, but he is also not really chayav missah al pi din either. Personally, I find it comforting to know that Gd is tolerating such events, as more of a shev v’al taaseh, based on the natural system that He set up, rather than having Gd as the immediate direct cause. As a said in my original comment, the call to Teshuva is still there, since we bemoan the fact that we do not merit Gd’s direct help, just like we no longer merit tzaraas and negaim, which also served as a call to teshuva.

  3. David Farkas says:

    Concerning matters of Hashgacha or “connecting the dots”, you can find almost any conceivable viewpoint among the rishonim. You just have to read a little, or, as Dr. Leiman has joked in other contexts, you just need a library of more than 10,000 volumes. Both the views of “you must’nt read God’s mind” and the opposing, “you must surely try to read Gods mind”, are found in the literature. Like most matters of dogma, there is no right or wrong answer.

  4. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Rambam, Ramban, Sefer Ikarim, chovos levavos, others discuss that most people ARE subject to the rules of nature, and only great tzadikim, who are in complete dvekus with Hashem, merit full protection from the chance events of natural law. So I am not sure why we always feel the need to think that we are so close to Hashem, and on such a high spiritual level, that we merit His full and ongoing Hashgacha Pratis, such that every bad event has some deep theological significance.
    The issue of where and where not hashagach peratis applies is fascinating and complex. I don’t think, however, that it is relevant. Assume for a moment that we somehow knew that a particular phenomenon was not governed by hashgacha peratis. This would not mean in any manner or form that G-d didn’t “know” about it and didn’t “allow” it as an outgrowth of His Will. Ramchal would simply move it to the arena of hashgach kellalis, whose consequences are also foreseen by the Being who set up such laws in such a way as to best do His bidding. Since none of the apparatus necessary for the outcome of the seemingly random laws behind the phenomenon could exist for a moment outside of His Will, the moral consequences are still attached to Him. But this is precisely what some thinkers outside of Orthodoxy will not concede. They do not wish to have G-d associated with tragedies and calamities in any way. G-d is responsible for what is good and pleasant; the other stuff has to be laid upon a different doorstep. I cannot see how this is not some variety of Manichaeism

  5. jasonberg says:

    I’ve had the opportunity to break bread with Pastor Hagee. He figured out what the Muslims knew but forgot. Those who are good to the Jews will find themselves in HaShem’s favor. Those who attempt to destroy us will themselves be destroyed. This will not stop Pastor Hagee from attempting to convert us, if given the chance. It is part of his obligation under his beliefs. But he will not do so by force or trickery. He will do everything in his power to protect Israel and would love for all of us to make aliyah to hasten his messiahs return. While we know that he represents one of the seventy wolves that surrounds us as the lamb, we must find benefit from his awareness of our Torah truth.
    McCain has shown a penchant for going whichever way the wind blows and he should have defended Pastor Hagee instead of abandoning him for political expediency. The Pastor deserves better. If only all Jews were such staunch supporters of Israel…

  6. Daniel Shain says:

    Rabbi Addlerstein’s article is, as always, thought provoking. However, some of the theological points need clarification. First, many rishonim (Rambam, Ramban, Sefer Ikarim, chovos levavos, others…) discuss that most people ARE subject to the rules of nature, and only great tzadikim, who are in complete dvekus with Hashem, merit full protection from the chance events of natural law. So I am not sure why we always feel the need to think that we are so close to Hashem, and on such a high spiritual level, that we merit His full and ongoing Hashgacha Pratis, such that every bad event has some deep theological significance. Acts of nature are a form of Hester Panim, and ultimately, Hashem is behind that too, but it’s not necessarily “theologically shallow” to think that chance events are occurring. Hashem does not intervene because we do not merit it, so there is still a call to Teshuva when these events happen. Also, it’s not clear that non-Jews can merit this direct involvement (hashgacha pratis) from Hashem, so again, it may not be problematic to say that events in China are not just acts of nature.

  7. michoel halberstam says:

    Classical Baalei Mussar speak alot about those who always seem to know what Hashem wants every minute. The experience of the last two generations proves, if nothing else, the absurdity of such thinking. Chazal want us each of us to consider whether bad things happened to him/her because of a sin or other shortcoming of his/hers. Never are we called upon to be “matzdik a din” on someone else. If the only person guilty of this was Hagee it would be easy to criticize. Unfortunately, he isn’t the only one. If his heart seems to be in the right place, he should be given abreak. Thank for a gerat column.

  8. Daniel says:

    Good points…but if G-d is the One who gave us our minds’ ability to connect dots, then what IS the correct way to view world events?

    Or is the pattern-discerning aspect of the human intellect a freakish mistake of evolution?

    Another example is the “Hannukah Eve Storm of 2006” (see wikipedia).

    This storm struck the Seattle area after a raging public battle over whether or not Sea-Tac airport would allow Jews to display a Chanukah menorah alongside xmas trees. The airport refused to allow the menorah, and kept only the trees.

    Additionally, the airport pulled a stunt that made a huge “chilul Hashem” by making it appear as if the Jews had demanded the xmas trees be removed – which was never part of the private negotiations whatsoever…

    Soon after the battle, on the eve of Chanukah, the storm hit “causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and leaving over 1.8 million residences and businesses without power.”

    Essentially, the greater Seattle area was plunged into total darkness during the Festival of Lights.

    (The official name of the storm was chosen out of ~8,000 names, amongst 39 unique individuals who suggested the name).

    We know that G-d is Just.
    We know that G-d acts measure for measure.
    We know that G-d is the one who fashioned the human mind to discern patterns and connect dots.

    As to WHY G-d would punish a massive number of people all together for the wrong doings of a few individuals…we can only speculate.

    We know that G-d is patient and “slow to anger” – often punishing a person long after their transgression. Perhaps what appears to us as “collective punishment” is really synchronized individual punishment. And the synchronization of it is there to teach us ALL a lesson; whereas the suffering each individual undergoes is personal punishment for unrelated wrongdoing.

  9. mb says:

    Both you and your corespondent got it wrong. The earthquake was karma for the Chinese treatment of Tibetans. So says Sharon Stone.

  10. MICHAEL LITTON says:

    Great article. Written clearly about profound truths. Homerun!