By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for

The news is reporting that there are 304 dead (if not more) in Haiti after it was hit by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake over Shabbos.

“The most important thing is to recover as many survivors as possible under the rubble,” Prime Minister Ariel Henry said.

He added, “We have learned that the local hospitals, in particular that of Les Cayes, are overwhelmed with wounded, fractured people.”

Many buildings have collapsed from this earthquake and the Prime Minister has declared a one month state of emergency.


Many people view earthquakes as the energy released from the random and meaningless movement of earth’s tectonic plates. They see it as layers of crust and brittle upper mantle moving over the athenosphere randomly colliding with each other, pulling apart, and rubbing against each other. The clastic energy that was stored is simply released. Randomly. They see it as nature at work. Nothing more. True, there is a massive release of energy and movement called an earthquake. But, they say, it is devoid of any meaning.

Not so the sages of Israel. The sages view earthquakes as containing messages – deep and profound signals to us.


Example:  Sept. 1st, 1923, was the 20th of Elul – 98 years ago.  An earthquake, a very powerful one – hit Japan’s Kanto plain.  It veritably destroyed Tokyo, Yokohama, and its surrounding cities.  It killed over 100,000 people.  When the news reached the Chofetz Chaim in Radin,  he fasted and said that the news should galvanize everyone to do Teshuvah. He wrote a Kol Koreh about it (Letters of the Chofetz Chaim 10-12).


The Gemorah in Brachos 59b discusses the subject matter at length. Rav Katina identifies the Mishnaic term “Zvaos” as “Goha” – meaning earthquakes. The Gemorah relates that Rav Katina was once walking on the road and reached the house of a sorcerer who read human bones. As he passed by the earth shook.

Rav Katina asked the sorcerer if he knew how earthquakes came to be. The sorcerer raised his voice and answered, “Katina, Katina, why should I not know?!? When Hashem remembers that his children are immersed in pain among the nations of the world, he sheds two tears into the Great Sea and His voice is heard from one end of the earth to the other – and this is an earthquake.”

The Gemorah concludes that although Rav Katina did not admit it to the sorcerer – the answer he gave was correct. Rav Katina personally explained based upon a verse in Yechezkel (21:22) that the earthquake is the result of, “And I shall pound My hand upon My hand and I will put My wrath to rest..”

Rav Hai Gaon and Rav Nissim Gaon both explain Rav Katina as saying that these tectonic plates are physically moved as a manifestation of Hashem’s of Hashem’s compassion for His people – bereft of the Dveikus that could have been achieved through the presence of the Bais HaMikdash, scattered among the nations of the world, and living in misery.


Rabbeinu Chananel explains things somewhat differently. In his view the earthquake is an expression of Hashem’s frustration at the treatment of Klal Yisroel at the hands of the nations – and that He remembers the promise made to Noach never to flood the earth again. The earthquake is a sign to the Jewish nation that Hashem has not abandoned or forgotten us. We should patiently wait until the burdens of the exile are lifted. The earthquake strengthens our fear of Hashem and allows us to rededicate ourselves to Torah and Mitzvos.


The Maharal (1520-1609) in his Be’er HaGolah (4:7) explains that the phenomena of nature are not solely on account of nature – they have a Divine cause behind them. The Anshei Knesses HaGedolah enacted the blessing of “Whose power and strength fill the entire world.” If earthquakes were solely a phenomena of nature – then why would they enact this blessing. Among the men of the Great Assembly were prophets as well!

The Maharal also explains that this Divine sadness is not actually to be attributed to Hashem because of His complete perfection – rather it must be understood as reflective of us – the recipients. In other words, explains the Maharal, we the Nation of Israel are not functioning as we should – we are broken from our true task – and thus the world appears to be shattering or appears to break.

He further explains that the earthquake is a message that things are not how they should be. Israel should be fulfilling its Divinely ordained role. The place of Hashem in the world should be different than they it is now. Thus, the earthquake indicates that things are, in fact, different, then they should be.


The message of Haiti is twofold – one of what to long for and the other of reassurance.


From the Maharal we learn that we should not be satisfied with the diminished or limited role that we now have. We long for the time when we can once again be the light unto the nations – where we can inspire the nations of the world to form, as we pray for in the Rosh haShana Davening, “veYaasu kulam Agudah achas laasos retzoncha belaivav shalaim.. that the nations should form one Agudah to perform Your Will with a complete and pure heart.”

From the Gaonim the message is not to give up- to be reminded once more of Hashem’s undying love for us. It is a message of hope where we can continue once again – renewed with the knowledge of Hashem’s concern and love.

The timing of the earthquake too is profound. We need the reminder of the Gaonim in a time where an innocent child is murdered. When a great Rabbi is stabbed to death. When the nation of Israel is in danger of having a hateful state bent on its destruction.

We need the reminder of the Maharal right before Rosh haShana to pray for what should be. May we all be zocheh to take the message of the earthquake to heart. Amain.

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