Jewish Thought

How Do We Relate to G-d after Witnessing Natural Disasters?



Shalom, Rav. I have an important question: Why is it that we see such atrocities happening in the world which seem to be very bad and cause a person to feel far from Hashem? I always hear that whatever Hashem does is for the good, but there seems to be so much suffering in the world, that it is difficult to accept the fact and feel secure that the Creator does everything for the good while at the same time you see such terrible things. Especially now that we see, even among Jewish communities, that everyone thinks Hashem will protect them and nothing will happen, and then in actuality you see that even they are affected by a natural disaster.


To the Questioner:
Your words are correct.
We find that even the greatest of the prophets, Moshe Rabbenu, asked this question of Hashem: “Why is it that one righteous person receives good, and another righteous person receives bad?” (Berachos 7a).
It is clear that this is one of the realities which is hidden from our understanding – why it is exactly that each person goes through what they go through. The ability to comprehend clearly everything that transpires from one end of the world to the other has been concealed from us, and will only be revealed in the future era[1].
Just that in the meantime we still need to believe that Hashem is leading everything for the good of each and every one of us, and when we see things taking place in the world that appear as bad, it should still not be cause for us to lose our sense of security in our relationship with Hashem. The way to re-strengthen our belief in our personal and positive relationship with Hashem is to review a major principle that we have passed down as to how Hashem acts in regard to His relationship with us.
What we have passed down is that Hashem’s hashgachah (Divine providence) toward us is based upon the rule of “midah k’neged midah” (measure for measure)[2]. That means that Hashem acts toward us in a way that mirrors our own heart feelings and actions towards Him.
Although when we observe what happens to others we will never be able to know how whatever is happening is “measure for measure” – since we can never really know what is in the heart of any other human being[3] and thus we can never know what their personal heart relationship is really toward Hashem, nonetheless, when we observe ourselves and our own lives, and we know clearly what is really in our hearts toward Hashem, we can know with certainty that whatever is happening is “measure for measure”.
The explicit source for this is in the Midrash[4]:
“Said Bar Kapara, the soul of man and the Torah are [both] exemplified as a candle. The soul, as it is written: “The soul of man is the candle of Hashem”[5]; and the Torah, as it is written: “For each mitzvah is [like] a candle, and the Torah is [like the] light”[6]. Says Hakadosh Baruch Hu to each man: “My candle is in your hand, and your candle is in My hand: My candle is in your hand – that is the Torah; and your candle is in My hand – that is the soul. If you protect My candle, I will protect your candle”.
We see from here that someone who upholds and protects the mitzvoth of the Torah to be kept as they are supposed to be kept [according to the halachah (practical Torah directives)], is guaranteed that Hashem will act with him “measure for measure” and protects his soul from any harm[7].
The knowledge itself of this principle can give us a great sense of security and reassurance. Once we know that when we keep the Torah directives as they are supposed to be kept and we dedicate our heart feelings to sincerely build our own personal relationship with Hashem, we can be assured[8] that no harm will ever befall us that is greater than what is due to us according to the principle of measure for measure[9].
Therefore whenever we want to understand what takes place to others, whether it be righteous people in their personal life or people who suffered from a natural disaster, we need to realize immediately that we do not have the ability to know how their suffering is “measure for measure”. According to what we we see, it seems to us that they do not deserve to receive such suffering at all.  Therefore whenever it comes to thinking about incidents that have taken place to others, we need to just ‘leave it alone’ and not think about it at all – being that we know that it is beyond our ability to grasp what is really taking place for each individual in his own personal level of relationship to Hashem. Only Hashem and the person himself really know that calculation.
But when it comes to thinking about incidents which take place for us, in our own lives, since we are aware of our own level of personal relationship to Hashem, then we can know for sure that the rule of “measure for measure” certainly applies[10].
So to answer your question: We can know for sure that the Creator is leading everything only toward good for everyone, only once we understand the principle of “measure for measure”. When it comes to us evaluating our own relationship with Hashem, we can feel secure and be certain that if we are feeling and acting sincerely with Hashem, Hashem will certainly protect us from any worldly harm according to the rule of “measure for measure”. And we do not have to become confused or shaky in our steadfast belief that Hashem is leading everything toward the good when we see difficult incidents that arise in the world, because we know that the only ones who can really understand what is going on in those incidents are Hashem and the person themselves.
May G-d give each of us the strength that we need in order to maintain our belief and certainty in regard to our relationship with Him – especially in the face of overwhelming occurrences that arise before our eyes – until such time that we are able to emerge from this galut (exile), speedily in our days, Amen.
With Blessings

[1] Chagiga 12a.
[2] Rashi, Shemos 18-11.
[3] Seven things are hidden from man and one of them is what is in his friend’s heart (Midrash Breishit Rabbah, 65-12).
[4] Devorim Rabbah 4-4.
[5] Mishlei 20-27.
[6] Mishlei 6-23.
[7] The exception to this is if a person willingly enters (or remains) in a makom sakana (place of danger). If a person enters a place or situation which most people would refrain from (or engages in an activity that most people would refrain from) because of the danger involved (Igros Moshe), then even if he was worthy of being saved from any harm because of his relationship with Hashem “measure for measure”, he will nonetheless be subject to the reality of the physical inhibitions and dangers, and he cannot rely on a miracle to save him in that case (Pesachim 8b).
[8] As long as we don’t expose ourselves to a place of danger (see previous footnote).
[9] That means to say, if one forgot to say a brachah unintentionally, the amount of damage in his relationship with Hashem is minimal – since he didn’t even mean to sin. Therefore the most that could happen is a similar type of minimal discomfort that arises for him for one minute of his day. But he can certainly not walk around worried that because of his minor mistake he may now be obligated to capital punishment from Hashem like someone who desecrated Shabbos intentionally or committed incest, because that totally does not fit according to the principle of “measure for measure”.
[10] Mishnayos Sotah, 1 – (7-9).