This is the second part of an article I wrote for a prominent Orthodox Jewish publication in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in November 2012. The article was not run in that magazine (due undoubtedly to the sentiment expressed) but I posted it later, in full, on my blog in May 2013. I am reposting it here today as a word of warning to those who take it upon themselves to divine the Divine intentions behind terrestrial phenomena and broadcast them tactlessly into the universe. The same sort of self-appointed 'prophets' who ran their mouths during and after Sandy are at it again, a decade later, as Tropical Storm Hilary is striking the southwestern USA, particularly Los Angeles, where I am writing this preface (August 20, 2023).
(The entire original article, including the first part in which I detail my experiences during Hurricane Sandy, is located here.)
Alas, it takes disasters like Hurricane Sandy to bring all the various armchair pundits to come out of the woodwork, spouting theories about “why” Hurricane Sandy has happened the way it did. One person purporting to be an Orthodox rabbi made an appearance on a Christian television program, claiming that New York’s support for same-sex marriage was “the reason” why the city was hit by the hurricane. Another person, an Israeli rabbinical celebrity, has pontificated that Sandy was a message from G-d against Israel’s dependence on America. Lots of lesser lights have peppered the social media with similar views. I have some words for all these people, great and small: Hurricane Sandy was a natural event, a storm like many that have brewed up in the Atlantic Ocean and carved out the shape of the East Coast throughout the millennia. Natural occurrences like these serve to show us G-d’s might—indeed, the blessing one is to make upon experiencing or witnessing such terrestrial phenomena is “shekocho ugvuraso malei olam”—that His might and power fill the universe. Storms like these do not distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, and must not be viewed as punishments for some deed or another. We read in the weekly Torah portion on the Shabbos immediately following the storm about our forefather Abraham’s bargaining with G-d regarding the most wicked place on the face of the earth, the five Sodomite cities. Abraham argued that a righteous minority should not be destroyed with the wicked majority. G-d destroyed Sodom because a quorum of 10 righteous residents could not be found. However, in Long Beach alone there are more than 10 righteous individuals; multiply that logarithmically to cover the number of righteous persons in the entire New York/New Jersey region. This is not a case of a flood to wash away humanity’s sins, and is not a rain of brimstone and fire to destroy dens of iniquity. How dare anyone make statements to this effect. There are no prophets among us, and no human being alive today has a direct line to G-d. Anyone inclined to such pronouncements would do best to heed our Sages’ admonition that silence is a fence for wisdom. There are whole communities of honest, faithful and hardworking people—including many, many religious Jews—who have lost everything and they don’t need to hear such unmitigated rubbish. No one can have the temerity to tell grieving families at funerals why their beloved is dead, and so no one can have the chutzpah to presume to speak for G-d’s intentions. These wannabe-pundits should get up from the comfort and safety of their living rooms and start helping storm survivors clean up and replace what they had lost. I invite them to come to Long Beach and get their hands dirty with actual work that has genuinely positive effects on people, instead of the pontification they so self-righteously peddle that benefits no one. And while they are here, I would like to see them look directly into the eyes of Rabbi Goodman or Rabbi Wakslak, or any resident for that matter, and repeat their comments with a straight face. Similarly, there is a tendency, often by American-born Jews who have made aliyah, to self-righteously trumpet that the hurricane is a sign from G-d that all Jews must heretofore abandon all efforts to continue life in the exile and return en masse to the Holy Land (of course, no storm is required for this reaction; they say this whenever anyone in America sneezes). Perhaps they are unaware that natural disasters occur in Israel too (Carmel fires, anyone? Or how about some city-leveling earthquakes throughout its history?)—will these people suddenly start expounding on “the reasons” for these disasters? Again, how dare they presume to tell us what G-d’s intentions are. Perhaps they believe that somehow living in Eretz Yisrael gives them this higher clarity of vision, but they are blinded by the light, so to speak—blinded to the pain that their brethren in all the house of Israel, in whatever place they are, are going through. To them I say: Preaching aliyah and Zionism to someone who has lost everything in a disaster is tantamount to kicking someone when they’re down. For that matter, preaching about anything in any sort of way serves to instill nothing but disgust, and it often accomplishes the diametric opposite of the intended goal. Furthermore, I issue a challenge: If it moves you so much to bring Jews home to Eretz Yisrael, then put your money where your mouth is and sponsor an individual or a family. Not everyone is able to just up and leave, even if their most heartfelt desire is to move to Israel. There seems to be a mistaken impression that all Jews in America are rich and they could all move to Israel if it mattered to them enough. This is patently false. No small number of Jews in the US today, especially during this economic phase, barely make a living, going paycheck to paycheck. To you in Israel I say, if you want us there, bring us there. Because many of us can’t go there on our own. The bottom line is that the righteous get their hands dirty while the self-righteous run their mouths. If someone is unwilling to actually do something to mitigate the suffering—whether helping rebuild homes and communities, or helping survivors relocate—then let those someones keep their damn-fool opinions to themselves.