In the year 1570, a terrible earthquake affected the Italian town of Ferrara. The city was partially destroyed, and 200 people died. At the time the earthquake hit, Rabbi Azaria dei Rossi’s wife and daughter were in the daughter’s room, emerging unscathed. Dei Rossi wrote an account of this earthquake which he called “kol Elokim,” in which the earthquake served as an opportunity to work out a theology of divine intervention in the natural world.
From the times of our sages and even to this day, natural phenomena have engendered discussion among Torah scholars about their meaning and purpose in general, and about the specific incident in particular. Often, the causal relationship between these events and some wrongdoing is pronounced with great certitude. For example, many years ago, a person with a following as a spiritual leader asserted that Hurricane Jonah wrought havoc on the state of North Carolina due to a prominent Jewish figure who was incarcerated there with a name similar to Jonah.
So, which is it? Are natural phenomena, “acts of G-d,” a sign from G-d for us to repent, or a sign of the awesome power of the laws of nature G-d implanted in the world?
Perhaps we can suggest that everyone should take “acts of G-d” to heart…for themselves. It is not for us to say why they happen to others, but it certainly is appropriate for us to engage in personal soul searching to see what kind of lessons we can extract from them. A display of G-d’s might through the natural world should leave us shaken – and stirred.