Shirata for Jewish Prayer & Song
Sha'alu sh'lom Yerushalayim - Pray for the peace of Jerusaelm.
Number 5 - Shevat 5765 - January 20, 2005
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Explaining the Tsunami

We mourn the death of so many people in the Tsunami of December 2004 in South East Asia. We pray for the full and fast recovery of anyone who has suffered as a result. We ask for the Mercy of the Holy One Blessed Be He.

I've been intrigued by the public/media discussion on the religious implications of the Tsunami last month. To me this is a spacial case of the general topic of faith, especially faith challenged by catastrophes. It's interest lies in the intricacies of understanding causality (how and why things happen), modes of explanation (what soothes or irritates the mind), and the essence of faith.

One person commented on the BBC's website a few days after the Tsunami: "I am so angry at God. I don't think I can believe in Him anymore." The point it not that it's a logical challenge (to be angry at someone who is not believed to exit), but that it expresses an irritation of thought as to how the world operates.

There are, I believe, four major model-stories told:

1: The "Natural" explanation: Disaster happen by forces of nature. Humans can understand some of them. Given the right preparation and organization, humans can even control some parts of a situation to lessen damage.

2: The "Religious" explanation: This is an act of God. The earth (and ocean) obey the command of God. Based on the Biblical account of the flood, we can deduct that God had brought about the catastrophe as a result of the action (i.e. sins) of men and women. The flood has either a punishing, cleansing or warning function, or all three.

3: The "Spiritual" explanation: The earth and ocean reacts to what happens upon them by people. Earth and ocean have a personality and can bring about action per their needs and desires. This explanatory option is similar to the "Religious" explanation, except that the earth and ocean are given more jurisdiction, autonomy and authority in their realm.

4: The "Humanistic" explanation: Whatever the reason for the disaster, it serves as our call to help other people in their distress, and to do our best to better the lives of all human beings.

5: The "We don't know" explanation. The magnitude of this disaster is greater than our ability to fathom. Hence, we remain silent about its causes.

Aristotle suggested that there are four types of causes: Material, Formal, Efficient and Teleological. Note how all these types of causes are employed in the suggested explanation models above. For example, there is a physical/geological component to the "Natural" explanation that relates to material, formal and efficient causes. The explanation of sin relates to an efficient cause of a different type. The explanation of cleansing is teleological (the need for cleanliness in the future causes the action in the present).

May there be peace, wholeness, unification, of all the possible causes.

There is no One but Him. Only the Holy.

The Besht on Parashat Beshalach

[In the Song of the Sea, Exodus 15:9) "The enemy said, "I will give chase; I will overtake, divide the spoils, I will satisfy myself. I will draw my sword." [In Hebrew these five expressions all start with the letter aleph]. I heard from my teacher [The Besht] that the acronym of "I will give chase..." are the five Alephs, where the Master [aluf] of the world is hiding in the secret of the name SA"L, etc. This are the teachings of the master of mysteries."

Sefer Sefer Ba'al Shem Tov al HaTorah, Beshalack 9. From Toldos Yaacov Yosef, Bereshit.

Explanation: The name SA"L probably refers to Psalm 25:17: "The secret of HaShem is to those who have awe of Him." The Besht extracts the structure of five [remember the Besht Five?] from the sequence of five Alephs in the pronounced intention of the enemy to destroy the Jews. HaShem is hidden/revealed in everything that exists. This is the secret of HaShem to those who have awe of Him.

Tikkun Haklali Preparation Practice

The following file contains a first draft of the Hebrew, transliteration and translation of the first five Psalms of the Tikkun Haklali.

Song of Song Class

Our next meeting is Wednesday, 23 of Shevat, 5765, February 2, 2005. It's been so long. We're so excited to be learning again together after a rather long break. We'll resume our study of Malbim's commentary to Song of Songs.

The following file contains our translation, Malbim commentary and creative verse commentary on Song of Songs 1:1-2:9. The file size is about 450Kb.


Ronnie Serr
1725 S. Genesee Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90019
323 939 1669

It's around Venice and Fairfax -- 3 blocks East of Fairfax, Between 18th Street and Airdrome

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