Meditating on the Tragedy in Japan

April 11, 2011

It’s been a month since tragedy hit Japan and over 25’000 men, women and children died, many of them swept away by the terrible waves of the tsunami. 150’000 are still homeless, living in temporary shelters. Many more are probably living with friends and relatives, so that the actual number of homeless may be much higher.

While we cannot possibly make sense of out such a human tragedy, it does (or should!) evoke in us a feeling of human brotherhood, shared suffering, a tremendous sadness that so many of G”d’s creatures, each endowed — as all humans are — with a spark of G”d-likeness, were so tragically lost (cf. the aggadeta in Megilla 10b, where G”d rebukes he angels at the Splitting of the Sea of Reeds, where the Egyptian army perished, saying “My creatures are drowning in the sea …”). It also evokes in us our very own human frailty. In the words of the author of the High Holiday liturgical poem Untane Toqef, man bears resemblance to:

… the broken shard, like dry grass, a wilted bloom, a passing shadow, a disappearing cloud, the blowing wind, the whirling dust, the fleeting dream.

And despite our frailty, we, humans, are called upon to better the world, and Israel has a particular responsibility to lead by example and construct a just, loving and spiritual society.

When faced with massive but distant tragedies such as these, one must of course ask what it is one wants to achieve.

What such a situation calls for, is, first and foremost, an emotional study of those who were facing their deaths, and of those who, while they survived, saw their homes and often their friends and relatives, too, swept away under the terrible waves. Beyond that, the sought after texts should give strength to those who survived but became bereft and destitute, and should allow those far away to explore the religious questions and needs of the survivors.

So what texts may be fitting meditations on those themes of human frailty? Which texts may give us strength in the face of the fear of death? I want to suggest the following psalms. Read the rest of this entry »