No decent person can fail to be appalled by the various attempts to blame hurricate Katrina on its victims. At the same time, we must acknowledge that this line of thinking is a direct outcome of the concept of a just God, which we Jews are so proud have introduced to the world.
Thankfully, several thousand years of religious civilization did yield at least a few people who noticed that life isn't always fair. The first known sustained attempt to grapple with this problem from within the monotheistic tradition appears, of course, in the book of Job. To be strictly accurate, Job actually offers two approaches to the problem: one in the folktale framework of the book, and one in the poetic portion. The folktale offers what may seem like a throwback to the idea of an amoral deity, who treats his creations callously for the sake of his own ego. The poem, on the other hand, depicts a Supreme Being Whose nature and actions are so far beyond human understanding that, while they may ultimately be just in some cosmic sense, we can never hope to reckon with them. Rabbinic theology later introduced the concept of an afterlife that would even all scores, and the idea of "afflictions of love" imposed upon the good in this world, to lessen their suffering in the next. These ideas were developed by many thinkers throughout the centuries, yielding varied results. Yet one common thread runs through all of them, namely, an acknowledgement that the notion of a just deity giving each of us what we deserve within our lifetimes simply does not accord with observed reality.
There have always been those among us who have attempted to correlate particular "punishments" with particular "sins," and in so doing, they were not out of keeping with Jewish tradition. Yet they were also not fully in keeping with that tradition, and it is the responsibility of those of us who identify as religious Jews to emphasize that point. This sort of reasoning cannot be tolerated -- particularly since there are so many alternatives.
Ba' al HaRahamim - God of Compassion:
Mikolot mayim rabim - Above the voice of vast waters;
Mishberei yam - The breakers of the sea;
Adir bamarom Adonai -Awesome is Adonai our God.
In the path of Katrina's destruction, let the good in humanity rise to the top of the flood.
Give us strength to console those who have lost family, friends and neighbors.
Give us the courage to provide hope to those who despair.
Provide us with the guidance to heal those who ail, both in body and in spirit.
~ excerpt from A Prayer for Guidance and Understanding by Richard S. Moline and Rabbi Elyse R. Winick
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