Part I: God and superstorm Sandy

Many people are wondering what the higher meaning is behind the natural disaster which devastated the lives of millions.

Sandy storm 370 (photo credit: Michael Wilner)
Sandy storm 370
(photo credit: Michael Wilner)
I believe that if a triangle could speak, it would say, in like manner, that God is eminently triangular, while a circle would say that the divine nature is eminently circular. Thus each would ascribe to God its own attributes, would assume itself to be like God and look on everything else as ill-shaped. - Baruch Spinoza
As the US is trying to get back on its feet after the devastating “Superstorm Sandy,” which left over 120 people dead, destroyed the homes and possessions of tens of thousands, and left millions without electricity, ruining the lives of countless people, many good souls wonder what is the higher meaning behind all this. Particularly, religious people postulate that there is a divine purpose to all of this, and most of them believe that it must be human, moral and religious failure that caused this divine wrath to rain down on them and their fellow men.  
Within these communities, such reactions and attitudes are part of the religious outlook on life, and there is a strong tendency to blame themselves for such disasters. As Jews, we are responsible for all the shortcomings of mankind and so we endlessly repeat: mipneichato’enu, because of our sins, this has befallen us. Even disasters visited upon the gentiles are of our making.
Indeed, it can hardly be denied that the Torah and Jewish tradition are replete with examples of God warning the Jewish people of grave consequences if they do not follow the Divine Will.
Maimonides’ famous statement in his Mishne Torah (HilchothTa’anith 1:1-4) seems to bear this out. This great sage teaches us that after each catastrophe that has befallen the community, Jews should blow trumpets, fast, and repent. To believe that these tragedies are accidental and of no meaning is highly irresponsible, warns Maimonides. It is the epitome of callousness and denial of Divine Providence. It is close to atheism.        
Still, this cannot be the whole story. Common sense and a keen understanding of Jewish religious philosophy and sources seem to tell us that there is more to this than meets the eye. In fact, the constant emphasis on the moral and religious responsibility of Jews, and mankind at large, for any disaster that befalls them may well be a serious deviation from Jewish religious teachings. While many may argue that any denial of divine retribution would constitute apikorsuth (heresy), it may quite well be that the opposite is heresy and even a form of idol-worship.
Do good or evil events in this world really always depend on human behavior? Was there no other reason for God to create the universe than to test human beings and reward or punish accordingly? Is man really the measure of all things? Maimonides seems to doubt this in his Guide for the Perplexed (111:13-14) where he states that God made everything lema’anehu (Mishle 16:14), for His sake rather than for man’s sake. Are we compelled to believe that Stephen Hawking’s black holes and baby universes, the millions of stars and other celestial bodies were created only to test man’s moral and religious conduct? Would it not be more logical to conclude that God’s reasons for creating the universe are much greater and more significant than the problem of human behavior? Why create planets and invisible baby universes when what is of sole importance is human behavior on one tiny globe?
When Iyov (Job) demands an explanation from God as to why he has lost all his children, belongings and wealth and is suffering such terrible pain, God’s response is not that he has in any way misbehaved. Instead, He asks Iyov: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (38:4). God challenges Iyov’s very notion that suffering is always related to sin. Who says that My treatment of man is always to be judged by the criteria of righteousness? What makes you believe that I am always all-loving? There are larger issues at work.
While Iyov’s friends argue that he must have sinned, God rejects this argument. He declares that such an attitude is a denial of His multidimensional being and His larger cosmic plan. Iyov’s suffering has nothing to do with sin. God protests this very idea and tells him it is a declaration of preposterous heresy and an expression of childishness to think that way. Even worse, it is a reflection of man’s arrogance. Is he really so important? Since when is man able to judge God and decide why He created the universe? Such haughtiness is nothing but an attempt by man to squeeze God into the parameters of what man believes God should be. It is based on preconceived ideas of what God is and is not. Man constantly tries to view God through his own prism. But that reveals more about man than it does about God. Such an attempt is nothing less than idol worship. It is as if one is trying to describe a three-dimensional image by way of a flat surface.
To be continued…
The writer is the Founder and Dean of the David Cardozo Academy in Jerusalem. Author of many books and international lecturer on Jewish Philosophy. To receive his weekly Thoughts To Ponder, contact