Too often, when calamities befall us, we look to assign blame on any number of random factors. When those reasons run out, the term “fate” is substituted. It was the will of God, or it was meant to be, or some other similar reason is given. How many of us have used just such an expression to try and explain away a difficult or tragic moment? I know I have, while searching for meaning or context in a particularly challenging situation, used this reliable verbal get-out-of-jail-free card. As the author of the book of Ecclesiastes strives to explain, why is there an imbalance in the way the world should work? The righteous should be rewarded and the evil punished, yet we all know from experience this is not always the case.
Harold Kushner devotes an entire book to this premise, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”. We, not only as Jews but as people in general, have spent a great deal of time and effort trying to explain this illogic and the best answer seems to be that we have no control. Some throw up their hands in surrender to “fate” – whatever will be will be.
I refuse to accept such an explanation. To use such an explanation repudiates any semblance of responsibility we as human beings have for our own actions. In the bridging portion between last week’s reading of Parashat Bereishit and this week’s Parasha of Noah, the text goes to great lengths to justify God’s actions. It is not simply that God decided to destroy humanity, saving Noah and his family, but that wickedness and evil pervade society and that, not God, led to its downfall. The evils that befall a society are not caused by God, but what we inflict on one another. It may be what God promised would occur, but it is the perfect recipe for what happens when a society breaks down, when respect for one another is no longer present, when individualism and not communal responsibility is the norm. The flood is simply the means, not the cause, for what happened.
It is through our own actions, not fate, not some undefined force, that we can determine our future.
I pray that we are ever mindful of our actions, that we take full responsibility for them and diminish the impact of our activities by the consequences and impact we have on the world around us.