Recent weeks have seen an abundance of natural disasters, from a series of record hurricanes battering the Caribbean and America, to earthquakes in Mexico, which have devastated towns and displaced millions. So, what does the Torah say about natural disasters?
The Psalmist says that fire, hail, snow and smoke are all agents of the Almighty’s word. However, this does not make it any easier for those facing tragic consequences of storms to cope with the ordeal and the aftermath.
In contrast to past times, human beings today find it easier to travel and so can flee disaster areas if asked to do so.
This is reminiscent of how Lot in his time could flee the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
by volcanic eruption.
Other disasters claim a toll on life with less warning than afforded by a tsunami alarm or hurricane coming in from the sea.
One such example is the earthquake that hit Mexico City just before Rosh Hashanah, which came without warning and also claimed the life of a respected rabbi at the Magen David Synagogue.
The Talmud tells how Elisha ben Avuyah saw a child performing the mitzvah of fetching bird’s eggs from a nest high up in a tree – without harming the mother bird – so his father could eat, thus honouring his father and being merciful to creation.
On the way down, the child fell out of the tree and died. Elisha was so disappointed that he left his faith in God.
Similarly, Job viewed the God of fate as unanswerable to pain and suffering, intimating that He was at times capable of exercising cruelty.
However, the Torah states: “Be very careful to guard your life”. This means that a person should take every precaution possible to live protected and distanced from the effects of natural disasters.
We are blessed that we in the UK are not subject to such extremes of climate and terrestrial instability.
ω Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Princes Road congregation and is Chaplain to HM Cadet Forces on Merseyside