The 10 Plagues and the Haitian Earthquake

Shabbat January 16 was appointed as a shabbat that all Conservative rabbis in the greater Washington area would talk about God. Thanks to the regional officers of the Rabbinical Assembly, we are trying to create a more unified Conservative Jewish presence. Since the Torah portion this past shabbat was Va-Era and dealt with 7 of the 10 plagues it seemed logical to discuss theology.

But then tragedy struck Haiti. The devastation is indescribable and the toll on the population is massive. Predictions of 50,000 dead and over 3 million injured and homeless is mind boggling. It can be compared to one of the plagues of Egypt. (Click here to make a donation.)

Which leads us to try to understand God's role in world events. I always say that our personal theology needs to be as consistent as possible. That's what I strive for and it helps me build a stronger sense of God and a stronger relationship with God. I can't say that God causes only good things and is distant from evil. Though that may sound good it makes for a weak statement because why would God pick and choose how to get involved? Either God is imminent - involved in daily life - or transcendent - above and beyond it all.

The Torah makes it seem that God is imminent. God told Moses to go to Egypt, God brought the 10 plagues. If so, by extension then, God caused the earthquake to strike in Haiti. But I don't believe in an imminent God. I firmly believe that religion is meant to provide meaning to us today. Though it may be important to try to think beyond our lives - that God is eternal and there may be a bigger plan - I don't find meaning in that. I want to be able to believe in a God that inspires me to be to be good and to do good; a God that motivates me to be a better person. A God that causes earthquakes or makes people ill with cancer doesn't inspire me.

Therefore I believe that the Torah and the rest of the Bible contain accounts of human reactions to events rather than descriptions of the events themselves. I believe that some incredible things happened in Egypt 3,000 years ago and looking back upon them the Israelites considered them to be miraculous and divinely ordained.

I certainly hope and pray that in a few years we will look back on the earthquake in Haiti. We'll reflect on how countries around the globe provided human and financial efforts to rescue and rebuild Haiti. Hopefully we'll be able to view this recovery as miraculous.