Parashat Va'eira Torah Reading: Exodus 6:2-9:35
There is a rather uncomfortable juxtaposition between the horrific events in Haiti and our Torah portion. From the comfort of our safe homes, full refrigerators, safe running water and functioning hospitals, we shake our heads in dismay and bewilderment as the people of Port-au-Prince, Haiti continue to live in an atmosphere of chaos, death, starvation and dehydration.
Everything we understand about God as Creator compels us to reject at Robertson's repressive theology of God punishing Haitians for "making a pact with the devil" in the early 19th century as a way of winning independence from the French.
I will not accept that God punishes humans en masse through natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the Sunami or the Haitian earthquake.
On the other hand, this week's Torah reading includes the first half of the story of the 10 plagues that God brings down upon the Egyptian people. Unnatural disaster after unnatural disaster makes life miserable for every generation and social class of Egyptians, threatening or taking the lives of many. How do we reject God's hand in the natural disasters of sunami, earthquake and hurricane, but acknowledge God's hand in the unnatural disasters of blood, frogs, locusts and the death of the first born? Is there a theological position of integrity that encompasses these positions?
In my faith, the unnatural disasters of the plagues visited upon Egypt are the larger than life interpretations of events that surround definitive redeeming moments: God redeems Israel from the physical and spiritual bondage of Egypt. The event is profound, the triumph of the God of Israel over the gods of Egypt is stunning and challenging to the assumptions of that time and that place. It is only through the interweaving of events and impressions that is the 10 plagues story, a divine "throwdown" between the God of Israel and the gods of Egypt, that the events become comprehensible.
The ongoing tragedy of Haiti is not an event of theological import, it is the unfolding of natural disaster meeting human frailty. We have many resources that we need to bring to bear at this moment: the financial resources to send food and water and the implements to provide shelter; the human resources to impose order on chaos; the spiritual resources to infuse the people of Haiti with strength. The people of Haiti have been singing songs of faith in the streets. Their faith humbles me and inspires me. Respond, with me, by donating to relief organizations and coming together in prayer, as do the people of Haiti themselves.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.