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Monday, February 06, 2006

Red Sea Theodicy

Heard through the Five Towns grapevine about a speech given this Shabbos by a certain neighborhood Rabbi. Apparently, this Rabbi decided to draw an unfortunate parallel between the Red Sea ferry disaster that occured on Friday, and... Kriat Yam Suf. That's right. In his mind, this episode is perfectly reminiscent. You can just see the little checklist in his intercranial notepad:
  • Egyptians killed? Check
  • By drowning? Check.
  • In a Sea? Check. (Let's hope they don't ask which sea.)
  • The parallel event took place in this week's Parsha? Check. (Er..this week, next week - who's going to challenge me on this one?)
According to my sources, said Rabbi seemed to feel that somehow, the Egyptians should be taking a lesson from this tragedy, and doing Teshuva for all of their past misdeeds. Because somehow, the Egyptians should be aware of the coincidence that their ancestors were drowned in the story retold in next weeks parsha. Yeah. I'm sure that's common knowledge to the Egyptian working class people who were tragically drowned commuting home from their low-income jobs.

I hate this because it reeks of the theodicy that was so disgustingly on display after Hurricane Katrina, and even more so after the Tsunami. Remember that? When various and random people decided that the damage wreaked by Hurricane Katrina was a direct result of the policies that led to the disengagement, I posted on my doubts that any mortal can be as smugly confident as some were on the reasons behind God's ways. I objected to it then, I object to it now.

If we were to follow this kind of thinking through to its logical conclusion, then we should be able to figure out God's intentions from every bit of news we see reported. A top Al Qaeda operative who planned the bombing of the USS Cole escapes from jail? He was performing an altruistic mission. A young student was killed during a robbery while managing a donut shop? Wow, he must have deserved it. Clearly, these examples are beyond the pale. But I think they prove my point beautifully.

This event is a tragic one. Only the most heartless among us will not find the pictures of heartbroken family members waiting to know the fate of their loved ones who were traveling on this ill-fated ferry to be terribly saddening. I know I do. Further, to continue the parallel between the Kriat Yam Suf and this tragedy, the Jewish way is to spill a bit of wine from the cup of our day-to-day enjoyment of life when any of God's creatures are killed.

This tragedy should be no different.

38 Comments:

Blogger Jack's Shack said...

I have been waiting to hear some fool espouse this type of view. Sorry to hear that I was right about it happening.

1:45 PM  
Blogger Robbie said...

Wow.

The sins of the father... How anyone can confidently assert that modern tragedy is the direct result of ancient (or even modern) fault is disgusting.

2:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

without commenting on the appropriateness of such a dvar torah - I just was wondering:

"In a Sea? Check. (Let's hope they don't ask which sea.)"

Didn't these recent Egyptians drown in the Red Sea?

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/02/06/world/main1282734.shtml

"The Al-Salaam sank in the dark hours of Friday morning while sailing across the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia to the Egyptian port of Safaga with more than 1,400 passengers and crew. Most of the passengers were low-income Egyptians returning from working in Saudi Arabia."

Am I missing something?

2:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon:

http://www.cresourcei.org/yamsuph.html

2:33 PM  
Blogger Gavriel said...

But if it's true, then be on the lookout for a golden calf in coming weeks.

2:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon2:
even if that *is* the current scholarly consensus, I would not imagine that this would go through the rabbi's "intercranial notepad," such that he would limit it to just "Sea" and hope that they don't ask which one, rather than connecting Red Sea to Red Sea.

2:49 PM  
Blogger MUST Gum Addict said...

I have much to say, but will try to keep it short. Whoever your sources are OM, I'd question whether or not they were really listening to what the Rav said. We all know that it's easy to pull things out of context and understand them very differently.

First, the Rav in question clearly stated that this was a terrible tragedy and that any event that resulted in such loss of life wasn't to be taken lightly.

In fact, the Rav (on Friday night), mentioned that his son who learns in Lakewood, called him Friday morning, to tell him that it appears his drasha was pre-written due to the events. And the Rav once again noted that he told his son that one must be very careful when speaking of such happenings and their apparent causes. If you want to question something, clearly I would point you towards a kollel boy learning in Lakewood.

Second, the Rav's message for the drasha was not that the Egyptians should be aware of what happened. The message was (and the Rav quoted Rabbi Frand), to "listen to your messages". The drasha wasn't about the Egyptians learning from their tragedy -- it was about US learning from THEIR tragedy. We know that everything in this world happens either for us, or because of us. The Rav mentioned that we should look within ourselves at such a time and realize that our actions have repercussions, and those repercussions could be something that occurs today, tomorrow, or thousands of years from now.

If someone walked away from the drasha thinking that the Rav meant what you are implying, then I would venture to say that person either heard what he wanted to hear, fell asleep or was nodding off during the drasha, or was outside during the drasha and heard it from someone else who was equally misled.

2:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

must gum, i was there. while you correctly describe some of the points the rav made, he ALSO suggested that this was somehow a message to the victims as well (although he did say that he doubts they will get the message).

3:14 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

If someone walked away from the drasha thinking that the Rav meant what you are implying, then I would venture to say that person either heard what he wanted to hear,

Must, I am sorry to say that I could say the same about you. My source was very reliable, and is not prone to "nodding off" during the drasha. As I said above, the problem I have with the Rav's words was his atiitude that he somehow knows what message God was sending by bringing on this horrific tragedy. I think that is an insensitive and plain wrong interpretation.

3:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reminds me of a song: Drown like an Egyptian...

3:45 PM  
Blogger Still Wonderin' said...

Why should we be so negative? I'd chalk the incident up, not to a fearsome punishment for the wrongs of a bunch of Jew hating arabs, but rather, to G-d's delightful sense of irony; something he inexplicably created arabs with not a lick of.

Oh, and by the way, barely one news outlet chose to highlight the fact that the captain and crew made off in a lifeboat as the boat was sinking. Such courage is rarely seen off the arabian peninsula.

3:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sick. I was waiting for someone to make this parallel.

4:24 PM  
Blogger MUST Gum Addict said...

OM, it would be hard to argue mainly because the words you heard were already changed by how someone else had already heard it or in how they repeated it.

Again, the Rav never stated or even insinuated that he knew why the events had transpired. He did what any Rav would do -- which is to inspire us and make us think about the things that happen around us and realize that while we may be fooled into thinking that we run our lives, there's something larger than that.

The Rav even specifically stated that initially, the news networks reported that the weather was calm and there were no indications that there was any foul play involved. he went further to clearly state that there was no apparent reason at all for such an accident and that to us, there need not even be a justified reason at all for such events to happen. I'd argue that such a statement directly conflicts with your assumption that the Rav was trying to explain why such an event occured or even hinted at why it happened at all.

Unless of course you were there (which I imagine is entirely possible). In which case, I'd say that we both obviously took two very different approaches to understanding the Rav's words. Notice I didn't accuse you of nodding off... :)

4:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Must Gum.... I was there you are correct, the Rav was very clear to say that we cannot gloat or openly show happiness for what happened(although he should probably teach those manners to his children as well). After that I fell asleep!

5:44 PM  
Anonymous i was there too said...

"cannot gloat or openly show happiness"

In other words it's bad pr.

5:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Meshech Chochma is this weeks parsha clearly discusses this point. No gloating over the downfall of enemies, that's it. And these destitude Egyptians (a) are not our enemies and (b) have no connection to Egyptians of old. The Rabbi under discussion tends to say similar things and has done so in the past so it behooves him to be careful. I was not there so I cannot comment on this speech but I was there for the Tsunami speech and that one was bad.

6:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree with Must.

OM's source(s), or OM herself, has set up a straw man and (with biases showing) knocked him (her?) down.

Among other inaccuracies, the rav did not say that the Egyptian's should be "doing Teshuva for all of their past misdeeds."

6:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The isue I see is that the Rav's son in Lakewood felt that the speech was "pre-written due to the events". Scary that that is how people in Lakewood think.

6:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That "scares" you? How so? Isn't the "picking up your messages" theme a Jewish one (okay, maybe not one you prefer, but still, this shouldn't frighten you, should it?)?

6:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry. Agree with Mom. Must, this is risky territory.

7:32 PM  
Blogger MUST Gum Addict said...

anon, risky territory is defined by someone who takes issue with a Rav's drasha by starting out with the words "heard through the grapevine..." and bases an entire argument on an interpretation of "what the Rabbi seemed to feel"...

I was surprised because OM, you usually do a wonderful job in backing up your opinions and ideas with solid evidence.

8:49 PM  
Anonymous i was there said...

must, agre or disagree with OM's opinion, her characterization is pretty much correct. A major part of the speech was about how "choshech" connotes a spiritual darkness and that the egyptians are afflicted by this "plague" and are unable to see the hand of God in what happened to them. The connotation of his statements was pretty clear.

8:58 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

and bases an entire argument on an interpretation of "what the Rabbi seemed to feel"...

Must, trust me, in this case, when I say the "Rabbi seemed to feel", it's my flowery way of saying that "the Rabbi said". Which he did. I stand by this post.

9:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have an idea! Perhaps the boat sank as g-ds punishment to the arab community for torching innocent people's buildings because of a damn cartoon in another country!

12:16 AM  
Blogger MUST Gum Addict said...

OM, I completely agree with your feelings about the issue. I just don't see how you came to those feelings through the words of the Rav. But then again, I'll admit that I'm constantly accused of seeing things in an overly positive way (especially by my wife).

Agree to disagree?

12:29 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

But then again, I'll admit that I'm constantly accused of seeing things in an overly positive way

Wow. That's probably an anomaly for a blogger. I'd think we're generally a more negative sort. But at least you're around now to keep things more balanced!

Of course, I'm happy to agree to disagree. Isn't that what these comment threads are all about?

12:49 AM  
Blogger MUST Gum Addict said...

I am the chosen one. I bring balance to the force. Or so they say....

:)

Great discussion/comment thread indeed.

7:31 AM  
Blogger rebba shlita said...

the first thing to come to my mind and many people i have spoken to was exactly the WOW factor of this happening a week before we read kriat yam suf.
as far as the ravs speach unless you are there in person you really cant comment.
you will never find two ravs with the same opinion. and i think the problem with our generation and constantly reading your blogs is the lack of respect that people have for the ravs in our community.
a rav is a rav if you dont like the way he speaks or the subjects he speaks about then dont daven there. it is shocking to see the lack of respect in our generation even for parents. and dont say they dont deserve to be a rav. if someone is a rav then they do deserve a little respect. i am suprised at ortho on you stance on das tora i general.

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As great and wonderful as this Rav speaks. He also loves to be controversial.

2:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rebba Shlita, you are correct, every Rav deserevs respect just by the mere factthat he is a Rav. That being said, a rav does not have carte blance to say what he wants when he wants. And if a rav is wrong (and a rav can be wrong as he is human) he needs to be corrected albeit in a respectful manner.

3:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon ...totally agree, if a Rav, Rebbi or Menahel for that matter is wrong on a subject they should be advised as such. If they are actually deserving of their positions, they will be able to accept criticism. Unfortunately in my experiences, without going into detail, I have seen the opposite.

3:35 PM  
Anonymous mycroft said...

" As I said above, the problem I have with the Rav's words was his atiitude that he somehow knows what message God was sending by bringing on this horrific tragedy. I think that is an insensitive and plain wrong interpretation. "

I have no idea who said such things-but I agree with Orthomom 100% -especially in the above comment.

11:19 PM  
Anonymous i was there said...

well, it seems the rabbi basically confirmed orthomom's take this week. the drowning egyptians (women and children included, presumably) deserved it, and let's hope for more to come. orthomom's source seems to have gotten it right.

1:20 AM  
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