Welcome! I am Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Madison, Wisconsin. "Pulpit Perspectives: My Observations as a Congregational Rabbi" is published every two weeks to reflect my observations about life in my congregation and with my members. The opinions expressed here are solely my own. I invite you to join the dialogue!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

God Sends Us

In a recent edition of Forward, Rabbi Ilana Grinblat wrote this about whether and how God intervenes in the life of earth’s creatures: “Does Judaism believe that God sends natural disasters in punishment for sin?

"This question was examined by the rabbis. The Talmud posits, “If a man stole a bag of seeds and planted them in his garden, it would be right if the seeds didn’t grow. However the rabbis concluded that nature follows its own rules and the seeds grow.

“The text likewise explains that if a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, it would be right if she did not get pregnant. But nature follows its own rules and she conceives. Through these and other scenarios, the rabbis articulated that God does not intervene in nature based on moral calculus.

“The devastation of the earthquake is horrible enough without giving the victims the added burden of feeling guilt that somehow they are responsible. This atrocious discourse only adds insult to injury.

"If God doesn’t intervene in nature, then where is God in disaster? A story is told of a man who goes up to heaven at the end of his life and stands before God, his heart breaking from the pain and injustice of the world. He cries out, “God, look at all the suffering in your world. Why don’t you do something to fix it?” God replies gently, “I did do something. I sent you.

"In the aftermath of disaster, God is with the injured and the bereaved, giving them strength to endure and heal. God is with the rescuers, giving them courage and perseverance. God is with all of us, encouraging us to give generously to the victims. God surely did not send the earthquake in Haiti last week. But God has sent each one of us to help."

The question for me, this Rabbi in Madison, Wisconsin, is whether we can see ourselves sent by God. For many of us, our eyes are blinded to this possibility because we are 'rationalists' who cannot fathom a God who intervenes in the world. I do not suggest that God does this, of course, but rather that this is the mission and goal of every individual on the planet. In other words, God set this up from the start, that the job of being human is precisely that, to intervene and help in the life of our world, and especially when our fellow humans need help.

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