Is God responsible for tsunami

Sept. 11 doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?

In its way, Sept. 11 was easy. We knew who to get mad at.

We got mad at al-Qaida, saw it correctly as the personification of true evil in this world. And we responded by depriving it of their center of operations, the country of Afghanistan. They hit us, we hit them back.

On Sept. 11, we lost about 3,000 innocent people in about one hour, a tragedy that haunts us still.

So then what to say, how to feel, how to react to the tsunami, to a force of nature that took the lives of more than 150,000 people in but a matter of minutes.

Who can we get mad at for that?

There will be all kinds of talk about early warning systems and governmental actions. And there will be all kinds of finger pointing. When tragedy strikes on a massive scale, we need someone to blame, someone to be mad at. For that makes it easier for us to figure out how to respond.

Even with a tragedy on the scale of the Holocaust, we had someone to get mad at. Hitler. The Nazis. The German people. Their willing collaborators in Poland and France and other countries. Their passive collaborators in the White House and at The New York Times.

There was plenty of blame to go around. Indeed, we’ve spent the better part of Jewish energy the last 60 years or so on being mad at those responsible for the Holocaust.

The Holocaust spanned some 13 years, resulted in the loss of some 12 million lives, 6 million Jews. Sept. 11 spanned about 60 minutes, resulting in the loss of 3,000 lives.

And then there is the tsunami. A few minutes. More than 150,000 lives.

Who to get mad at? Who’s responsible?

Tough question. Because the hard fact is that the only place one can look is to God.

Which is what makes the tsunami all the more an opportunity for us to look within ourselves as people, to call on the best in ourselves, to respond to unfathomable heartache with unlimited kindness.

Is God responsible for the tsunami? Yes. But then I am one who believes God is responsible for everything that happens to everything and everyone, from the growth of every blade of grass on up.

So, yes we must look to God. But the first challenge the tsunami presents is to do so not with anger and questioning, but with love and belief.

I do wonder why God brought this tsunami. But there is a difference between wondering and questioning. I do wonder. I don’t question.

God did it because it is part of His plan for this world. Doesn’t make sense to us? Our minds simply cannot even begin to fathom God’s ways.

I do believe there was a vital and good reason that this had to happen. But I do wonder why. I believe God wants us to wonder, both because in wondering, we acknowledge His role in our lives and because in wondering, we attempt to hear what His message is, what his purpose is, what his lessons are, what He hopes we will do.

Are there definitive answers? Of course not. But that does not absolve us of the need to wonder and to listen to what we are being told. Indeed, that is the second challenge the tsunami presents us.

The third challenge is to give a damn. As Americans, we gave a damn about Sept. 11. It hit our country. As Jews, we gave a damn about the Holocaust. It hit our people.

But what about the tsunami? Funny name that. And the places it hit have funny names like Sri Lanka and Peth Bacu, affected overwhelmingly people who don’t look like us, living in a part of the world almost none of us has any ties to.

The challenge then is for us to see those affected, both those who lost their lives and those whose lives have been turned upside down, as our countrymen, our people, too. To care as much about them as we do about ourselves, to respond to them as we have to Sept. 11.

And yes, to the Holocaust. The horror of the Holocaust was not only how many murdered us, but how many more simply turned away, were not interested, did nothing.

Jews must never respond with indifference or inaction to the tragedy of others specifically because of how the world responded to our tragedy. Instead of trying to pay the world back for what it did to us, we must show the world how it should have acted. It is, of course, not only the Holocaust that taught us that, but it is the Torah that tells us that is our very purpose. We are a light unto the nations, the ones to show others that all must treat all as they wish to be treated themselves, to remember the stranger, to care for those in need or in pain, to really care about suffering and injustice and pain and hurt.

To give a damn, but more. To act. To do. And to not stop doing.

With the tsunami, the only response called for is giving, is opening our hands and our hearts.

There are two other lessons that I am taking away from the tsunami.

One is to deepen my faith. I believe every word of the Torah is literally true. But let’s face it, it’s not easy to explain some of what’s in there. Which is where that leap so essential to faith comes in.

But science and belief are not mutually exclusive so it does help when we can see something right in front of our eyes that deepens the faith in our hearts. In this case, some might wonder about the Torah story of Noah and the flood. Could a flood really have wiped out all of humanity in one fell swoop? After the tsunami, I don’t find that so hard to believe.

The other lesson I am taking very much to heart is how much we have to be grateful for, those of us lucky enough to be Americans at this time, to be Jews at this time.

So many in the world struggle just to exist, a concept far more foreign to me and to most of those reading this than any city in Sri Lanka.

We are so lucky. What I take from this tsunami is to be more aware of that, to be more grateful for that, every day.

What I take from this tsunami is to appreciate God more, to recognize that we can’t grasp why He does what He does, but that our job is not to do that, but to believe with a purity of heart. As hard as that sometimes is.

But what I will take most from this tsunami is to care more about everyone with whom I share this planet. And to work hard, to try hard to make sure that that caring doesn’t fade away as soon as this tsunami story gives way to others, as it inevitably will.

Thank God, the tsunami has not affected me in any way personally. I haven’t lost anything or anyone. Which is why I plan to make a real effort to make sure that the tsunami affects me personally for a very, very long time.

Joseph Aaron is editor and publisher of the Chicago Jewish News, where this article previously appeared.