Maimonides on National Tragedy


Moshe Ben-Chaim



Debby: I notice that some websites are using Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah (i.e., they cite Laws of Fasting 1:2-3) to support an argument for Katrina (the hurricane) as Divine intervention. There, Maimonides states that one must view tragedies as God’s message. And if he ignores this “message”, God will increase His fury.


However, based on your article ( I know that Rambam believed the opposite; he believed that natural phenomena are matters of chance and not Divine Providence (Guide, Book III, chap. XVII); and he believed that only human beings could be influenced by Divine Providence - more specifically, only human beings whose physical and intellectual perfection are outstanding, such as the prophets (Guide, Book III, chap. XVIII).


Therefore, Rambam provides two examples. A given ship sinks due to chance; and a given roof collapses due to chance. Whether or not people chose to board the ship or stand under the roof could be influenced by Divine Providence if those people were of a high enough physical and intellectual perfection. But the sinking of the ship and the collapsing of the roof were only by chance.


So, I conclude that the former websites - which use Rambam to support the “Katrina is (or could be) Divine intervention argument” - are cherry-picking Rambam’s words, taking them out of context.


May I ask your thoughts on this please?  What does Rambam actually say in Laws of Fasting?  Many thanks.


Debby Kobrin



Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: I discussed this issue with a wise Rabbi not long after the tsunami hit last December. Maimonides’ Laws of fasting, which you quote, refer to the Jewish nation ‘alone’, for whom all public tragedies are in fact God’s Divine message. This is what Rambam means, and this is not so regarding other nations. The Torah’s words quoted by Maimonides prove this, as God says to the Jews, “If you walk with Me with happenstance, I will abide with anger for your claim of happenstance.” God addresses the “Jew” in the Torah, not the other nations. He says that if we interpret tragedies as natural, then He will, blaze His fury in response for our false interpretation. Outside of the Noachide laws, God’s Torah is an exclusive address of the Jews. Therefore, only the Jew is to take their national tragedy as a Divine message. This does not mean that God loves the Jew more than all other peoples, for why would God have created all peoples?


Why is the Jewish nation alone to respond to apparent natural phenomena, as Divine? Does God desire the Jews alone to have the best life? Not at all. God is equally concerned about all creatures: this is why He created us all. But the Jew must view national tragedy as Divine, because they are recorded in the Torah. And when they occur, we are to respond with repentance, as our validation and agreement that God’s word is being fulfilled. This should be the response of all nations; they should view our tragedies as God’s message, using the Jew as His method of instruction…for everyone.


God manifests global veracity of His word for all mankind to witness. The Jew’s fate of success when Torah observant, and tragedy when corrupt is God’s message to the “entire world”. All members of mankind are to realize God’s Torah as the only religion revealed by God, and this is achieved by monitoring the fate of the Jews. It is not to be understood that God cares but for the Jew alone. God cares for all members of mankind. We are living proof for all generations of God’s Torah, through all the blessings and curses that we experience. Throughout time, God responded to mankind for his sins and merits. Now, after the Torah was given, God uses the Jewish nation as a testament to the truth and reality of His Torah.


There are no grounds to suggest that a natural disaster is God’s direct attack on the victims. They are laws of nature. God created His world with natural laws, for the precise reason that He wishes us to study His wisdom. Only when God says otherwise, are we to assume otherwise.


Now, what happens if the Jew ignores these warnings? God says He will show us His wrath for interpreting the first tragedies as natural, and He will deliver further tragedies. Why is this God’s response? Can’t we simply repeat our false interpretation for His second punishments as well? It appears that God will not let up from His fury, until we repent. And when we do, the suspension of His fury will prove that His Torah is true: repentance removes punishment.

My best wishes for you Debby, and for your family for this New Year. May you and yours be written and sealed for good in all areas. The Jewish nation needs more people like you, who not only seek the truth, but also share it with others in such a gentle and concerned manner.

Moshe Ben-Chaim