Saturday, April 16, 2011

Earthquakes and Thunder in the Talmud


The Gemara (rabbinic discussions) in the Talmud Tractate Berachot 59a lists various reasons why earthquakes take place. The Spanish commentator RASHBA (Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet, 1235 – 1310), however, understands the text in the Gemara not as a reason for earthquakes but for THUNDER. Thus, the RASHBA is asking what is causing thunder. Does G - d really clap in His hands or stamping his feet ?

This Talmudic statement of G – d making noise with His feet or hands reminds me of the old Germanic people who believed that their God Donar / Thor is making noise in heaven by rolling around his wagon. 

Although the Gemara is giving the reason that G – d is clapping His hands or stamping his feet, these examples are not to be taken literally but symbolically. What we have to do is recognizing the deeper meaning behind this symbolic language. The Tunisian commentator Rabbeinu Chananel (Rabbi Chananel ben Chushiel, 11th century) explains that G – d uses loud noise in order to express His dissatisfaction that the Jews still live in the Diaspora. He (G – d) would love to lead them back to Israel but the time has not yet come.

The Rashba added that thunder is a nature occurrence. During Temple times, when the Jews fulfilled G – d’s will, there were no heavy storms although they are caused by nature. Of course, there was rain but only as much as was needed and no floods or catastrophes. Thunder, however, was meant to cause a Jew to do Teshuva (to repent). 

When G – d creates a rainbow after rainfall, it is a sign that no further flood will befall the world. After Noach’s Flood, G – d made a promise (Brit) to Noach not to bring about another flood covering the world. The world but G – d could bring about a flood destroying a country. The rainbow is part of nature but G – d chose using nature occurrences in order to express His dissatisfaction with humans. 

I don’t really understand the Gemara. Earthquakes may take place when the Jews don’t go according to G – d’s will. Maybe even when the other nations don’t show a proper behaviour. G – d uses nature occurrences in order to make us think and review our behaviour, as nothing in this world happens without a reason. No quake, no thunder, no tsunami, etc. Nevertheless, I don’t think that it is right when certain Rabbis point their fingers at other people and claim they know the reason why this and this happened. Of course, we can guess and maybe make a suggestion but we should never forget that we don’t know G – d’s true intention.

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