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Acts of God

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

This is a time to stop talking and blaming, and start giving.

The pundits talk about how we have become a society of finger-pointers, a nation that always blames someone or something else for other problems. A society lacking a strong sense of individual responsibility.

This is in reality not a new phenomenon. Adam, the first man, blamed his wife Eve for his transgression in eating from the Tree of Knowledge (the implications for marriage not being discussed here!). Our commentaries suggest that Cain fought with his brother, Abel, and killed him, rather than face up to his own inadequacies.

We play the blame game with nations as well. If the U.S. shared more of its wealth, it wouldn't have been attacked on 9/11. If the government had heeded the warnings, we wouldn't have experienced the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. If the U.S. (or any other country) would leave Iraq, it would end terrorism. The list is endless. Read your daily newspaper.

I think that two psychological processes are at play here. One is the aforementioned desire to avoid responsibility. It begins in the playground -- "He hit me first!" "It's her fault!" And is reinforced by teachers and parents -- "Who started it?" And is rewarded in office politics and outrageous civil damage awards. Many words have been spilled over this issue and perhaps the much heralded tort reform will have a trickle-down effect.

The second is our desire for control.

By looking for someone, something to blame – whether it's the 'root causes' of terrorism or the head of FEMA, we exert our control and try to restore order to the world. We want to be in charge, in a safe and predictable world where everything has a logical, preventable root cause.

We don't want to accept the underlying message of all these calamitous events: we're not running the world; the Almighty is. And even the most powerful country in the world is subject to His will.

Of course we need to take practical steps and not ignore dire forecasts. But it is naive to believe we can be prepared for anything and everything. Who could really have imagined the degree of devastation? There's a reason these natural catastrophes are named "Acts of God" – no matter how hard we try (and yes, try we must) they will always remain uncontrollable, totally outside our domain.

Even horrific acts by other human beings can remind us that despite our best efforts, no matter how type A and organized we are, there are things outside our control. (Hard to believe isn't it?) Outside our imagination. No one could have imagined 9/11, even with more sharing of information. That's the real reason we weren't prepared. No one could have imagined the Holocaust. Despite the reports coming back from the camps. That's one of the reasons so many Jews didn't try to leave or boarded the trains willingly. No one could have imagined a whole city under water. And I believe that is one of the reasons the country was slow to act.

Our imaginations are limited; the Almighty's power isn't. Once in a while we need a reminder that it's not all up to us. We need a little awe and humility in our lives, especially as Americans. And we need to give to others (instead of being self-obsessed), as we are doing on such an unprecedented scale.

I'm not suggesting that we understand all the reasons for the hurricane in Louisiana or other world-wide tragedies. But perhaps finger pointing is the least effective response. The average American -- not a politician, TV reporter or talk show host -- knows he doesn't run the world. And he knows this is a time to stop talking and blaming, and start giving, and perhaps a time to deepen one's awe and prayer.

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