Any casual observer of the Tri-State Area over the last week would assume that we’re heading towards Armageddon. Earthquakes and hurricanes are not common in this area, yet since last Tuesday we felt the ripple effect of a 5.8 in Virginia and got our first taste of a hurricane since Gloria in ’85. Things like that just don’t happen here, and so, sitting here in the wake of two near-miss natural disasters, I can’t help but think that God is trying to tell us something. The question is what?
The basic premise that has been echoed by the hundreds of “biblical scholars” of all religions that have popped out of the woodwork since Irene was announced is that those crazies on the streets with those “THE END IS COMING” signs are right and any second now we’re all going to be wiped off the face of the earth unless we repent for Sin X. Sin X usually turns out to be the subject of a personal vendetta of said “scholar” and he/she was looking for any excuse to rant about it. This holier-than-thou soapbox preaching REALLY pisses me off. When an Orthodox rabbi has the audacity to blame the recent tragedy of Leiby Kletzky’s murder on the legalization of gay marriage in New York, steam starts coming out of my ears. That kind of thing does not sit well with me at all, and to be honest, the fanatical “all ye sinners” approach doesn’t really do it for me anyways, so, moving on.
One of the many traditions of my family’s Shabbat table is that my father will give over the speech that the rabbi of our shul gave earlier that morning, for the sake of my mother and sisters, who do not attend shul. Every now and then, something in it resonates with me and changes the way I think about the topic discussed. What stood out to me this past week was a concept that is pretty famous throughout Judaism and, now that I think about it, many other religions as well: crisis is a sign. If a person is going through a particularly abnormal, difficult time, it may very well be a sign that there is something in their life that needs fixing. The same applies on a communal scale; if the community is suffering (enter: Irene), it is a sign that the community needs to focus inward and figure out what provoked this “wrath of God.” This two line synopsis really doesn’t do the 30 minute speech justice at all, and while it was certainly well thought out and well delivered, I fundamentally disagree with the premise. My personal experiences shed a subtly different light on the concept.
As regular readers of this blog know, I went through a tumultuous period for around two years right after high school comically referred to as “The Dark Ages.” For a long time I was wandering aimlessly through life, doing what I should with no motivation, doing what I shouldn’t because I could. The purposelessness really messed me up, and I suffered educationally, socially, and emotionally. For a long time it bothered me that I didn’t know why I had to go through that. If God was out there, as I believed he was, then what the heck was the purpose of putting me through that if not to punish me for my sins? The whole experience conflicted with my (Judaically inspired) idea of a benevolent God. It took a long time and many connected events before I realized that I needed to hit that rock-bottom before I could make the decision to return to Israel and reach the heights that I did that year. In retrospect, it was worth it.
My philosophy on the issue then, is that I don’t have the arrogance to presume that I know the so-called master plan, but I’ve seen enough of it in my life to know that it exists. So when something out of the ordinary happens to me, I think, “I’m having this experience for a reason, and I might not know what it is now, but things have a way of revealing themselves in time.” Automatically plugging in to self-deprecation or self-promotion in situations of an abnormal or ambiguous nature is precarious. Looking at a situation and trying to shoehorn into it what you, in your limited scope of perception, think to be the meaning behind it, is a dangerous game. Instead, acknowledge that there is certainly a meaning behind it, but understand that you may not know what it is for a very long time. In my experience, that’s a much healthier and more productive way of handling those types of situations, and you avoid the inevitable god-complex perversion that comes with thinking you know the purpose of everything in your life.
I went through some serious medical issues roughly a year and a half ago, and, having experienced my post-high school master plan revelation, I was much more at peace with it than many might be. I knew that somehow it made sense on some metaphysical level and it was happening to me for a reason that I might never know. Life circumstances would prove me right again, serving to strengthen that belief. So when we, as individuals or as a community, are faced with disastrous circumstances, we may not learn the reason for a long, long time, but we should be at peace with that. Maybe we had a hurricane because a terrorist cell was planning on reenacting 9/11 that day but couldn’t because all flights were cancelled. Who knows? All we should know is that it happened for a reason. So when an area that is not prone to natural disasters is struck by two in the same week, it doesn’t mean we’re all sinners, it doesn’t mean that we should prepare for a volcano to spring up and erupt in Times Square next Monday night, and it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world as we know it. It just means something; what that is has yet to be determined.
Then again, I’m about to post two hours before I normally even start writing. What’s the phrase? When hell freezes over?
Okay, maybe the world is ending.
Song of the Day: Parallels – As I Lay Dying