I was in Israel staffing a Birthright Israel trip in 2004 when I learned about the Indian Ocean Tsunami while watching CNN in my Jerusalem hotel room. The following year, I was staffing a University of Michigan Hillel mission to Ukraine when the tragic news about Hurricane Katrina came on the news in my Kiev hotel room. I was therefore surprised that I learned of the devastation of the Haiti earthquake the other day while sitting in my own home, in the United States.
These natural disasters raise many challenging theological questions for us. The mere fact that we refer to these events as “acts of God” forces us to consider why God (whichever God we believe in) acts likes this — or why God allows these catastrophes to occur. Following the theology ascribed to Rabbi Harold Kushner, I would phrase the theological conundrum as: “How do we humans understand and relate to a God who doesn’t participate in these natural acts of devastation?” Because if these were really acts of the God in which I believe, I simply wouldn’t want that to be my God!
In the aftermath of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, I found some comfort in a prayer that Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote. I hope I also brought some comfort to others by reciting that prayer during that difficult time. Rabbi Sacks, the chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, has adapted that prayer for the recent earthquake in Haiti.
As an introduction to the prayer penned by Rabbi Sacks, my teacher Rabbi Brad Hirschfield of Clal writes the following on his Beliefnet blog: How does one pray in the wake of this week’s events in Haiti? Or does that really beg the question of how we pray on any given day in the face of equally painful, if less grand, tragedies? I am not sure, and frankly right now, am not sure that I care.
Prayer in Response to Natural Disaster
By Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi
Adon ha-olamim, Sovereign of the universe,
We join our prayers to the prayers of others throughout the world, for the victims of the earthquake which this week has brought destruction and disaster to many lives.
Almighty God, we pray You, send healing to the injured, comfort to the bereaved, and news to those who sit and wait. May You be with those who even now are engaged in the work of rescue. May You send Your strength to those who are striving to heal the injured, give shelter to the homeless, and bring food and water to those in need. May You bless the work of their hands, and may they merit to save lives.
Almighty God, we recognise how small we are, and how powerless in the face of nature when its full power is unleashed. Therefore, open our hearts in prayer and our hands in generosity, so that our words may bring comfort and our gifts bring aid. Be with us now and with all humanity as we strive to mend what has been injured and rebuild what has been destroyed.
Ken Yehi Ratzon, ve-nomar Amen.
May it be Your will, and let us say Amen.