Tag Archives: spirituality

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!

The Spiritual Dimension to Traveling

A friend sent me the following inspirational video clip:


A former neurologist called Dr. John Kitchen, gave up a lucrative medical career to spend the rest of his days roller skating along the Pacific Beach boardwalk. He now goes by the name of “Slomo” and skates day and night. His life philosophy is “Do as you want to“.

It made me think. When you travel, not to get from place A to B or to accomplish a specific task at place B, but just for the enjoyment of traveling, is there a meaning to it? Is there more to travel then just “Do as you want to“?

Can one integrate into a journey, a deeper significance (as a Jew) and make long-term travel into something spiritual?

This reminds me of a story:

The Chafetz Chaim and the Bus Driver

The Chafetz Chaim got on a bus and upon discovering the driver was a Jew, told him how much he envied the driver’s share in the World to Come.

“You do so many acts of Chessed (kindness) all day by taking people to their destinations”, the Rabbi exclaimed. “But this is my job. I get paid to drive people around. I’m not taking them purely for altruistic reasons”, protested the driver.

“Even though you’re getting paid, your focus should be on the fact that you’re helping your fellow Jew get from place to place”, answered the sage, “Your salary is to enable you to do acts of kindness. Without earning a living, you couldn’t invest your time in driving people to their destinations”.

I understand from the Rabbi’s words that one can and should imbue even simple and mundane actions with a deeper spiritual dimension. It’s all a matter of focus.

Spiritual Dimension to Traveling
Traveling for Business or Pleasure?

Spiritual Dimension to Traveling

Here are a few ideas which lend a spiritual dimension to traveling:

  •  Kiddush Hashem: Any action by a Jew that brings honor, respect, and glory to God and His Torah is considered to be sanctification of His Name, whereas any behavior or action that disgraces, harms or shames God’s name and his Torah is regarded as a Chillul Hashem (desecration of the Name). This means that even on vacation when you want to loosen the reins a bit, you still need to behave pleasantly and respectfully to the locals. Saying “please” and “thank you” are the very minimum, along with relating to people with honesty and integrity. When you behave yourself properly on vacation, people will feel that its good dealing with Jews and that’s a Kiddush Hashem.

Help people respect Jews.

There used to be a time (I hope this has changed by now) when Israeli tourists weren’t very welcome abroad.

The Israeli tourists would push ahead of others who were standing in line. They’d speak aggressively and look down at the locals. When staying at hotels they’d walk off with towels and room equipment. It got to the point that the Israeli government did a whole Public Relations drive to change tourist behavior abroad.

I think today the situation is much better. It hadn’t been that much of a Kiddush Hashem back then…

  •  Kindness: Like in the story of the Chafetz Chaim and the bus driver, wherever you travel you’ll meet people who need help. They don’t have to be starving orphans in Cambodia who need a slice of bread to survive. Even helping a handicapped fellow traveler with their luggage is an act of Chessed. So is giving a less knowledgeable traveler directions to their next stop.

Do simple acts of kindness every day of your trip.

  • Observing the Mitsvos in challenging situations: Keeping Shabbos and Kashrus and attending prayers in a synagogue are part of being an observant Jew. Doing them while in transit is a greater challenge. (What do you do if you’re stuck in a hotel room on Shabbos, and you can’t open the door without engaging an electronic sensor?) In fact it is written in the Rabbinical writings “Lefum Tsa’ara Agra“, the reward is proportionate to the difficulty.

Do your best to observe the Mitsvos under all conditions.

  • Teaching Torah: Whether you meet other Jews or Non-Jews, people are curious about Judaism. Don’t be shy, teach others what you know. You’ll be expanding their awareness of Torah, and you’ll understand more yourself.

Teach someone a bit of Judaism every day.

  • Spreading Sparks of Holiness: I remember the year of saying Kaddish for one of my parents. I did a lot of traveling at the time and for some reason kept a record of every different place that I said Kaddish. At the end of the year the list was long and fascinating. There is a spiritual significance not only to the act of doing a Mitsvah but also to the fact one did that Mitsvah in a specific location. I read that the Baal Shem Tov went from place to place to spread sparks of Holiness everywhere he went and make spiritually repairs everywhere he stayed over.

Leave your spiritual mark at every stop.

  • Appreciation for God’s creation: When one observes the wonders of the world like vast oceans or majestic mountains, then one can recite the blessing “Oseh Maaseh Breishis” to express our appreciation for the beauty God created in the world. One can’t make this blessing by looking up Niagara Falls on Google Images. You’ve got to be there and see them to feel thankful to God that they exist. Travel brings many Oseh Maaseh Breishis moments.

Thank God for all His beauty wherever  you go.

Whatever reason you have for going on the next trip, you can make it more meaningful, more spiritual and more significant if you invest a bit of thought and focus.

Of course you can “Do as you want to“. But put in a bit of spirituality at the same time.