All seemed so peaceful. There was barely a ripple in the sea as disaster suddenly struck without any warning on a flawlessly clear day adorned with a magnificent blue sky. The speed with which it all happened seemed like a scene from the Torah, reminding us of the Red Sea collapsing upon Pharaoh and his chariots and riders as described in the song of “Oz yoshir.” Entire towns and villages were just washed away like sand castles destroyed by the incoming tide.
The death and destruction caused by the recent tsunami that hit Asia is so enormous that it is far beyond our comprehension and overwhelms our senses. The damage and devastation left in its wake is a horror scene of such apocalyptic proportions that it defies the imagination. Pictures can’t even properly portray a fraction of the story. The loss of life caused by the attack on the Twin Towers pales in comparison. It’s probably one of the worst natural catastrophes to hit the world since the time of the Deluge. Yet, despite the great magnitude of this horrific tragedy, it has caused few of us to change our ways or shed a tear or weep for the tens of thousands of unfortunate victims who have lost all family members along with all their worldly possessions and are now left without food or water. Such is the nature of man. The loss of even one person who is close to our heart evokes more pain and hurt than the loss of a thousand people that we never knew or met.
How different was the feeling of our Father Avrohom. When he was told that the wicked city of Sdom and its nearby four cities would be destroyed, he immediately began to pray and negotiate with G-d on their behalf. A great tzadik feels another person’s pain just as his own. Every human is created in the image of his Maker. ( See Pirkei Avos 3:18 ) “Endeared is man that has been created in His image.” While the great tzadik Noach pleaded and begged his people for 120 years to mend their ways, he was still criticized for not praying on their behalf despite their wicked ways. Before destroying the large city of Ninveh, which was in present-day Iraq, Hashem sent the prophet Yona to urge them to repent. Every life has meaning and purpose. We must even pray for the sinners to repent.
Yet, for most of us, life goes on as usual. We are far more concerned with the loss of a suitcase on the recent airline mess up than we are with the loss of a million homes in Indonesia and Thailand. One person found shot on the streets of New York gets equal time in the media and shocks us more than the most horrific catastrophe on the other side of the world. A single death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic. Such is the result of our long dark and bitter golus. The smell of smoke coming from next door touches us far more than a raging forest fire that has destroyed thousands of acres in Florida or California. We are so caught up with our own problems that we’ve lost all sense of perspective and have become frostbitten and numb to the tragedies happening in the rest of the world. Isn’t it rather strange how an earthquake 5,000 miles away seems less of a catastrophe than a scratch on our new car?
Chazal interpreted such tragedies as a message to Klal Yisroel to examine itself and repent.
While we have no prophet that can explain the magnitude of this catastrophe nor why it hit where it did, it seems that every once in a while Hashem reminds us that He is still in control. ( See Rashi Parshas Va’eiro 7:3. ) The Atlantic Ocean overflowed its banks in a tsunami that occurred during the days of Enosh, who was the originator of idol worship, and drowned one third of the world’s population, Commenting on that tragedy, ShlomoHamelech in his great wisdom said ; uhbpkn utrhha vag ohektu – “Hashem has done it so that we would fear him.” ( See Rashi Koheles 3:14. ) Let’s just remember that if we act like Pharaoh and fail to read the message and believe its all chance and coincidence and nothing but nature gone haywire, then one wonders what may chas v’shalom follow.