click here to jump to start of article
  • Torah Reading: Naso
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

Acts of God
Mom with a View

Acts of God

This is a time to stop talking and blaming, and start giving.


The pundits talk about how we have become a society of finger-pointers, a nation that always blames someone or something else for other problems. A society lacking a strong sense of individual responsibility.

This is in reality not a new phenomenon. Adam, the first man, blamed his wife Eve for his transgression in eating from the Tree of Knowledge (the implications for marriage not being discussed here!). Our commentaries suggest that Cain fought with his brother, Abel, and killed him, rather than face up to his own inadequacies.

We play the blame game with nations as well. If the U.S. shared more of its wealth, it wouldn't have been attacked on 9/11. If the government had heeded the warnings, we wouldn't have experienced the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. If the U.S. (or any other country) would leave Iraq, it would end terrorism. The list is endless. Read your daily newspaper.

I think that two psychological processes are at play here. One is the aforementioned desire to avoid responsibility. It begins in the playground -- "He hit me first!" "It's her fault!" And is reinforced by teachers and parents -- "Who started it?" And is rewarded in office politics and outrageous civil damage awards. Many words have been spilled over this issue and perhaps the much heralded tort reform will have a trickle-down effect.

The second is our desire for control.

By looking for someone, something to blame – whether it's the 'root causes' of terrorism or the head of FEMA, we exert our control and try to restore order to the world. We want to be in charge, in a safe and predictable world where everything has a logical, preventable root cause.

We don't want to accept the underlying message of all these calamitous events: we're not running the world; the Almighty is. And even the most powerful country in the world is subject to His will.

Of course we need to take practical steps and not ignore dire forecasts. But it is naive to believe we can be prepared for anything and everything. Who could really have imagined the degree of devastation? There's a reason these natural catastrophes are named "Acts of God" – no matter how hard we try (and yes, try we must) they will always remain uncontrollable, totally outside our domain.

Even horrific acts by other human beings can remind us that despite our best efforts, no matter how type A and organized we are, there are things outside our control. (Hard to believe isn't it?) Outside our imagination. No one could have imagined 9/11, even with more sharing of information. That's the real reason we weren't prepared. No one could have imagined the Holocaust. Despite the reports coming back from the camps. That's one of the reasons so many Jews didn't try to leave or boarded the trains willingly. No one could have imagined a whole city under water. And I believe that is one of the reasons the country was slow to act.

Our imaginations are limited; the Almighty's power isn't. Once in a while we need a reminder that it's not all up to us. We need a little awe and humility in our lives, especially as Americans. And we need to give to others (instead of being self-obsessed), as we are doing on such an unprecedented scale.

I'm not suggesting that we understand all the reasons for the hurricane in Louisiana or other world-wide tragedies. But perhaps finger pointing is the least effective response. The average American -- not a politician, TV reporter or talk show host -- knows he doesn't run the world. And he knows this is a time to stop talking and blaming, and start giving, and perhaps a time to deepen one's awe and prayer.

September 17, 2005

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 8

(8) TMay, July 26, 2015 9:25 PM

re New Orleans

My father visited New Orleans before the breach. He is an engineer. He couldn't believe that people had built a city below sea level. Then we read that politicians took funds that were supposed to be used to maintain the levees (and pumps) holding back the water, (and emptying the water) and spent them elsewhere. Can you blame it on God that leaders who are people were short-sighted, had bad judgment, and were greedy and gave in to that impulse? Now we are watching the same thing IMHO on the world level with Obama and Kerry and Iran, where as far as we know the payoff is legacy, and satisfying ego, and possibly a Nobel Peace Prize or two, a place in history. There may be other rewards of which we are unaware. That is what the people got for voting for someone they didn't know, and the alleged journalists covered up info and broke rules, and so did bureaucrats in the government. The people voted twice which goes to show that they preferred to keep blinders on, they liked their delusion, and liked the image they saw in their mirrors, and some of them preferred to sell their vote for very little. It is hard to think that the voters made responsible decisions about the future of the country after choosing to vote on the second vote for a demonstrated liar. It seems like the opposite of John Kennedy " Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

(7) one man, December 6, 2005 12:00 AM

Not to speak for the whole or even the few or dare to speak for the almighty. I do agree with much of this view. G-d in the torah inflicts horrendous acts upon humankind when humankind fails to live in accordance with his will, (remember Noah??? Sodom and Gomorah???) the intent was clear live in accordance with the divine will or live with the consequences. G-d is very capable and like a parent will inflict acts often viewed as terrible not to be inhumane but to reign in those who have strayed. Perhaps our time and energies would be better spent if we were to stop looking as what is wrong as what is meant to be and do something about it??? G-d from the begining has asked for positive action not complaints, conjectures, complacency. If more time and energy was spent working for the common good of all of humankind then perhaps G-d would find favor and provide more answers and solutions to the problems which perplex. Such as the old adage an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If each did every part of good for the common good of all within thier own means (selflessness) the perpetual good in motion would cycle in ever increasing greater scales until the terrible acts would no longer occur. Who's to say that humankind can not find a way to stop hurricanes from forming or eliminate them if they did??? Or that impoverished nations could find a way to educate thier people and stop blaming other nations for their stature??? Its going to take more than an act of G-d to cause these events to occur, after all isn't that the challenge of life that G-d put forth at the begining???

(6) Ora Goldman, December 5, 2005 12:00 AM

I appreciate many of the articles I read on I wanted to let you know that I particularly appreciate Emuna Braverman's article "Spirituality - Acts of God". Well said and needs to be said. Thanks Emuna.

Ora Goldman

(5) Jazmin Stinson, September 25, 2005 12:00 AM

Awsome, just beautiful!
Jazmin Stinson

(4) Ross, September 21, 2005 12:00 AM

God's role

Why do people have such a hard time believing that G-d could cause tragedy? Have they not read the Bible? G-d creates both the good and the evil, the light and the dark - and that's an important thing: dark isn't just the absence of light, it is a thing created by G-d. Evil isn't the absence of good, it is a created thing in its own right. We don't know the intentions of G-d, and never will, the best we can come up with are merely limited human concepts. G-d's will can never be known in human terms. But to say that G-d doesn't intend them is to say that they are left to chance. That's is fine if you don't believe in a deity that participates in his creation, but the Jewish faith clearly states that He does. As befits an infinite being, G-d may have an infinity of purposes behind these tragedies, and we can but guess at a few, but simply being able to reconcile our limited understanding of G-d with tragedies is no reason to reject His involvement in them. G-d IS reality, all of it, one.

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment