Spirituality of an Earthquake

Korach and the Earthquake

Since the days of Korach, the mere thought of a major earthquake fills people with dread. Of course Korach’s untimely demise along with his rebellious followers was a unique divine punishment for trying to incite the Jewish people against Moshe’s leadership. A singularity. Hopefully never to occur again.

In the post-Korach era, I’m sure that no normal human being would deliberately be present at an earthquake, whether the earth opens up or not. I doubt that even the dedicated photographers of National Geographic would run after them.

Haiti Earthquake (2010)

Just to get some perspective on the experience, here’s part of a first person account from the horrific 2010 Haiti earthquake when the catastrophe struck millions.

I was four months pregnant, sitting at my desk in the United Nations office in Port-au-Prince, when my world changed. It was nearly 5 p.m., but I was in no rush to leave because my husband, Eduardo, was in Italy, training for a U.N. security job.

I heard a thunderous noise. Then the room was vibrating, and the walls were swinging. I wondered, “Should I hide under the desk? Run outside?” Everything around me was plunging — bookcases, computers. I tried desperately to shield my belly as I, too, fell to the floor and pieces of the ceiling crashed down around me. Then my office-mate grabbed me by the only thing he could reach, my ponytail, and dragged me down the front steps of the building.

Outside, I knelt on all fours on the pavement, which was still heaving. The sun was setting and the air was thick with dust, but I could see that the six-story U.N. building had collapsed. I realized I was listening to tens of thousands of people screaming. It sounded like Armageddon.

(“I Survived Haiti’s Earthquake, Pregnant” By Amelia Shaw as told to Nicole Caccavo Kear from “American Baby”)

Spirituality of an Earthquake
Shih Gang Earthquake

Earthquake Reality and Facts

Interestingly enough, earthquakes aren’t rare at all. It is estimated that there are 500,000 detectable earthquakes in the world each year. 100,000 of those can be felt, and 100 of them cause damage. If you want to see exactly what’s going on with earthquakes worldwide, check out the U.S. Geological Survey site. They have loads of interesting facts and even a real-time tracker and map (link) for seismic activity. So far today, June 17th, there were 37 recorded quakes over 2.5 magnitude.

Earthquakes are definitely acts of God and mostly caused by rupture of geological faults. But man too shares in the responsibility of causing an earthquake by storing large amounts of water behind a dam (and possibly building an extremely heavy building), drilling and injecting liquid into wells, coal mining and oil drilling, and of course nuclear tests.

Spirituality of an Earthquake

OK, so how does all this relate to the Jewish traveler? What’s the religious perspective and practical to-do list if God forbid you get caught in an earthquake somewhere along one of the oceanic and continental plates where the risk is highest?

Spirituality of an Earthquake
Tectonic plates of the world

Earthquake Blessings

Upon witnessing the quake one should make a blessing:
Baruch Atta Ado-noy Elo-hai-nu Melech ha’olam shekocho ugevurato malei olam.
translation: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, whose power and might fill the world.

Some have the tradition to say a different blessing:
Baruch Atta Ado-noy Elo-hai-nu Melech ha’olam osei ma’asei vereisheet.
translation: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who reenacts the works of creation.

If one was in physical danger during the earthquake then one should also say Birkat HaGomel after the event, to thank Him for surviving.

When one later returns to the location of the event, them one should make an extra blessing: Baruch Atta Ado-noy Elo-hai-nu Melech ha’olam She’asa Li Nes BaMakom Hazeh
translation: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has performed for me a miracle at this spot.

Experiencing an earthquake helps bring into focus how the forces of nature are all truly from God and expressions of His majesty. One merely needs to feel the ground shake a bit to know without doubt who is really in charge.

Japan 2011

Keep safe!