Earthquake and Tsunami: Why Do They Happen?

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rabbi-dr-abraham-j-twerskiBy Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski,

The recent tragedy in Haiti has elicited a number of comments. People question why G-d permits such catastrophes to happen. Others ask, why go to places of worship to pray for the victims to the G-d who smote them? Some people see such tragedies as expressions of G-d’s wrath, but, are the victims of earthquake, tsunami and tornadoes to be considered the most sinful people in the world?

My understanding of these happenings is based on the statement of the Zohar, that the Torah was the “blueprint” according to which G-d created the world. In other words, Torah is Natural Law, according to which the world operates. The Law of Gravity is Natural Law and is inviolable as are other physical laws, and so is the Natural Law of Torah. If the physical law that keeps the moon in its orbit were somehow suspended, the moon would crash into the earth, but this would not be a punitive act by G-d. If someone puts one’s hand into a fire, one gets burned, but that is not a punitive act of G-d. Rather, it is the result of Natural Law that fire burns.

According to the Torah, there are seven Noahide Laws that are binding on all human beings, and these constitute the Natural Law according to which the world operates; these are:

  1. Prohibition of idolatry
  2. Prohibition of murder
  3. Prohibition of theft
  4. Prohibition of promiscuity
  5. Prohibition of blasphemy
  6. Prohibition of flesh taken from a live animal
  7. Requirement to have just laws.

All human beings, religionists and non-religionists are required to abide by these laws, which underlie the Natural Law according to which the world operates. Violation of these laws is tampering with Natural Law, whose consequences can be catastrophic.

The world is a closed system. When a butterfly flaps its wings in Norway, it affects the ecology in Australia. When the Natural Law is intact, the earth’s crust and the atmosphere are stable. When air pollution tampers with the ozone layer, or sulfur dioxide pollution causes acid rain, the effects may be felt hundreds of miles away from the perpetrators. The people suffering these effects are not being “punished” by G-d, but are the victims of the reckless behavior of other people.

Is this an injustice? Yes, just as it is an injustice for a pedestrian to be killed by a reckless driver. Such happenings occur because G-d does not interfere with the free choice and behavior of human beings. Just as we do not fault G-d when an innocent person is killed by a reckless driver, we should not fault G-d when innocent people, victims of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and tsunami, suffer from the reckless behavior of those who violate the Natural Law.

No one is singled out to suffer the consequences of tampering with Natural Law. Violation of the seven Noahide Laws by people on one continent may result in a disruption of the Natural Law according to which the world operates, and the consequences of such disruption may occur on a distant continent. The disruption of the Natural Law which affected Indonesia and Haiti may have been caused by violations of the Noahide Laws by people the world over. No individual or group of people can be singled out as responsible and as being punished.

The seven Noahide Laws are the basis of decency and morality. Every human being should behave according to them.


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  1. B’michilas K’vodo, From what was written here it seems to insinuate that its the faault of the “goyim”. This might be emes, but, as we know from “nigleh”, if something catastaphic happens in the world, we need to do teshuva! Hashem is sending us a message as well, if not, even more so than the fault of the Umos Ha’olam”!

  2. As king Solomen said Sayog Lachucma Shitkah.
    may be we should all look into Misli that king solomon wrote & will gain some wisdom for sure.

  3. With all due respect, and without delving at depth into the words of Rabbi Twersky (there’s lots to talk about and ponder – he is walking along the border between a believing Jew and a non – scarey quite frankly) we know that gedolei yisrael of past have ALWAYS negated pondering over “Why” questions. When people tried explaining “why” Hashem brought on the holocaust (and he said a lot simpler, more solid explanation than we find in this post) the holy Brisker Rav was extremely against it. He said absolutely no explanation is permissable or required! You can explain at length why its not required etc but not more than that. I tend to believe the same hashkafa applies here.

  4. I would answer answer in the words of Pirkei Avot “We understand neither the suffering of the righteous nor the tranquility of the wicked.” Chazal tell us to remember our own frailty at times of tragedy and do a cheshbon hanefesh, but we should not look for an explanation.

  5. Rabbi Dr. Twerski writes about an
    important subject. His discussion of Natural
    Law as an essential component of Divine
    creation provides a salutary frame of

    I do take exception to one idea
    expressed in the essay. Rabbi Twerski states:
    “When a butterfly flaps its wings in
    Norway, it affects the ecology in Australia.”
    The foregoing reflects esoteric mysticism
    which is apparently popular among my Hasidic
    Viewed from a different perspective,
    I am surprised that Rabbi Twerski is reluctant to consider Almighty God’s wrath
    as pertinent to this theological discussion.
    After all, classical Jewish literature is
    permeated with such chastisements exhorting
    the populace to repent. All this is predicated
    on the principle of “Skhar” and “Ohnesh” as
    posited in Rambam’s declaration of Emunah.

    On earthquakes, see JT 89a.
    There it is stated that sexual immorality
    is the cause, in particular, “mishkav zokhor”. (Other reasons are cited there and elsewhere on the subject of retribution.) In this context, it is appropriate to
    use anthropomorphic locutions in depicting
    HASHEM’s negative reaction to man’s misconduct.
    As Rambam points out, these calamaties are
    designed to motivate people to engage in
    (See Rambam Mishnah Torah Hilchos Taanis 1:1,2,3).

    I wish to add that
    Israel is to be commended for its rescue mission in Haiti.

    In conclusion, such events
    should have a chastening impact on us to
    utilize our lives to do good with HASHEM’s

  6. I’ve read this article 4-5 times and I’m still trying to understand the words in a way that isn’t kefirah! I’m trying to judge favorabally but I can’t seem to find a way. The talmud states that one doesn’t hurt his finger in this world without it being commanded from above. We believe in one eternal power and one only. Anything that looks like a controlling power is in reality false. There exists no such concept as a power called nature. The seforim write that nature in reality is just the usual will of Hashem regarding this world. How can someone write that if one causes a fault in nature which then affects someone else, the person affected isn’t being punished?! How can it be said that one killed by someone elses negligence isn’t being punished?! This is KEFIRAH! Does such a person also believe that the six million killed by the Nazis ym’s were also not being punished? Is there no ??? ???? ? in this world c’v? I understand that he is saying its a punishment from not keeping the Torah, but at the same time to explain it bs a natural order of things not withstanding the affected’s personal ??? ?????? ? seems to be heresy. That a person killed by a negligent driver is not being punished also seems to be heresy. Rather I say with conviction ??? ????? ?’ ??????? ?’ ????- not only is Hashem the only G-D, he is also the only power. If anyone can please explain to me what about this article I took in the wrong way, it would be greatly appreciated. (ps the idea that Hashem is not ‘responsible’ for a persons own negligence is a true idea, but is only stated regarding the suffering of the one who was negligent himself and not regarding anyone elses suffering that stems from the persons actions.)

  7. Rabbi Twerski states:
    “When a butterfly flaps its wings in
    Norway, it affects the ecology in Australia.”
    The foregoing reflects esoteric mysticism
    which is apparently popular among my Hasidic

    On that point, Rabbi Twerski is absolutely correct. And it has nothing to do with Chasidus.

  8. this is why the Charedie websites should be banned!! it is not enough for all the chillul hshm and loshin hora and Gedolim bashing that goes on. But now we even have people like comments #1 & #3 (and more) That are telling us hashkafa!!! Now we have internet surfing blog posting am haratzim telling our gedolim how to learn a Zohar!!!!

  9. the Torah says “AIN POR’UNEIUS Ba’olam ela bishvil yisroel’ no tragedy hits the world that is not because of klal yisroel. each time tragedy strikes the world ISRAEL & the jews are the first to be blamed for it. Hashem is asking each time if we will wake up now after 9/11 ETC… or do more tragedies need to hit this world? C”V

  10. RABBOSAI: Our primary source should always be Talmud Bavli. Accordingly, please see Gemoro Brochos 59a for various opinions concerning what causes earthquakes. One opinion is that when Hashem remembers his chlidren who are suffering among the Umos Ha’Olom Hashem drops two tears into the Yam HaGodol “v’kolo nishma mi’sof ha’olom v’ad sofo”.

    The Gemara clearly is conveying a deeper message than the literal meaning of the words.

    Rabeinu Chananel explains that the Gemara is teaching that earthquakes express Hashem’s dissatisfaction with the fact that the Jewish people are in exile. He wants to redeem the Jewish people, but the time has not yet come. This is a great chizuk to Klal Yisroel that Hashem has not forgotten or forsaken us and should motivate us to tshuva, kiyum hamitzvos and maasim tovim in anticipation of the geula shelaymo b’korov!

  11. The reason tha these catastrophes happen is that the world follows the laws of nature, and in nature, these things happen. The simple truth is the absolute truth. Leave God out of this, no one knows what his thoughts are, and don’t anthropomorphize him, He is not Man and does not have what we call “thoughts”.

  12. I find the comments that Dr. Twerski purports to understand the reason behind the earthquake and is therefore not a true believer – perposterous. If we reread his remarks without our urge to malign him, he is pointing out that there is a system of natural law of Torah that is deep, and often defies our ability to understand. How is it that an event in one place has any relevance to someone elsewhere inthe world? If we were to have the truly infinite wisdom of ??? ?? ???? ?? ????? ??, we would be better prepared to grasp this. I think his mainpoint was that this was not a miracle – it was ???, though not yet explained by the limits of today’s science. I think Dr. Twerski’s position was that we simply do not know the complete reason for this tragedy. It is not an answer to a “WHY” question, but the placing of this question into perspective.

  13. Re # 7 “When a butterfly flaps its wings in
    Norway, it affects the ecology in
    Australia….It has nothing to do with

    This sounds like something Al Gore
    might say about global warming. I
    guess it has nothing to do with
    Chassidus. It has nothing to do with
    Judaism either.

  14. I see nothing wrong w/ the commentary of R’ Twerski. Nothing he wrote denies or disputes the comments in this forum regarding the need for Jews the world over to be woken from our slumber to do teshuva. He may be correct or incorrect in his posit regarding the connection between The Naohide Laws and Natural Law and how it concerns the recent tragedy in Haiti (I personally thought it was presented and laid out clearly and concisely- a nice raayon). I also don’t believe he intended to opine that this was the only cause. I understood his words to mean, that many look to understand more coherently-cause and effect relationships. R’ Twerski is simply noting that one need not overlook the obvious, and that the neglect of basic principles and fundamentals are at the root of such “natural” disasters.
    R’ Twerski is also not the author of the Norway-Australia vibe. This has been attributed to R’ Yisrael Salanter Z”TL, who had said that the shmiras shabbos of Yidden in Paris affects the taharas hamishpacha of Yidden in Russia (not an exact quote, and may be vice versa, or possibly misquoted).

  15. This site and others contain some absolutely disgusting comments aall based on complete misunderstanding of his point. Not only is there no kefira in what he is saying, but there are many other sources that support his explanation.

    For those who thought that his involving “nature” in the discussion is a problem, please study the Maharal in ?????? ?’ in the second ????? where he discusses the precise roles of ??? and ??. There is nothing about ??? that is not completely hashgochas Hashem. To opine differently is kefira. And even more so, the function of ??? is a proclamation to Hashem’s greatness, repeated so many times in our tefilos and in Tehilim (actually throughout the Torah). The role of ?? is to demonstrate the ever present control by Hashem of Natural Law by the suspension of it in favor of ??. Some learning, instead of the “quick to throw dirt” attitude will go a long way to understanding Torah and those who study it.

  16. Intrigued, Dr. Twerski would be the last to say that. He often says he’s not daas Torah, having been immersed in the secular world.
    BUT I have to take him very seriously. He’s a talmid chacham, and a zaken in every sense. His life experiences give him great credibility.
    Now if anyone finds fault in my words, don’t let that be a reflection on Dr. Twerski.


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