The Tsunami and the Sweet Letters of Judgment
Earthquakes and their destruction are a part of history. Thousands have died before. On December 26, 2004, coinciding with the 14th of Tevet 5765, which was a full moon, the deadliest underwater earthquake in recorded history, measuring a 9.0 on the Richter Scale, occurred in the depths of the Indian Ocean, less than 100 miles off the coast of Sumatra Island in the Indonesian archipelago. As is well known by now, the major cause of death, which as of the date of this writing has exceeded 289,000, was not the earthquake itself but the resulting tidal waves, tsunamis, which roared onto the shores of eleven countries in the South Asia Indian Ocean Basin and along the coast of northeast Africa. Yet, even though it is not the deadliest earthquake of all time, it is noteworthy that it is one of two of the ten deadliest earthquakes in recorded history, the other of which occurred in Iran exactly one solar year prior, on December 26, 2003.
The frequency of strikingly deadly earthquakes is increasing, yet one might be inclined to dismiss this acceleration of the pace of disaster as mere events of Mother Nature. I might also agree if it were not for the prediction of Rabbi Yitzchak Kaduri, considered Israel’s leading kabbalist, who was quoted in Yediot Acharonot on December 12th, two weeks before the catastrophe. “Great tragedies in the world are foreseen, that's the thing of Jews going to the East." How is it that Rabbi Kaduri knew at least two weeks before it occurred about a catastrophe that would bring Jews back hopefully alive from the East? Apparently he did know, but the real bell ringer regarding what he said is mentioned in the previous line of the article. “The world is mitmatek mehadinim,” it is ready to be judged with sweetness. This is a statement that is loaded with intense “End of Days” meaning.
Anybody who is moderately familiar with Jewish “ritual” should immediately think Hoshanah Rabah (The Great Redemption), the 7th day of Sukkot (Tabernacles). On that day the judgment, which was decreed on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur is delivered to us in a this-worldly form. We pray that this judgment should not only be pleasant, but also that the nations of the world should receive adequate water to provide their physical needs for the coming year. We do this because, especially during Sukkot, it is Israel’s responsibility as a Nation of Priests to pray that the entire world be sustained for the year to come. On a deeper level, we pray that the world be sustained one more year with the proper mixture of G-d's attributes of justice and mercy so that Israel itself can be sustained in its long exile, yet will suffer for its sins in this world and not in the next. In this way, when Mashiach (the messiah) comes and Israel has been cleansed of its sins through suffering, only the wicked will be punished so that the righteous will not die with the wicked. Then shall the righteous, Jew and gentile alike, live to witness the Messianic era.
One may ask, “How do we pray for the world’s sustenance?” We do this while holding five aravot (willow branches) asking G-d to save us now so that we do not have to suffer another year of painful judgment in order to experience G-d's greater good in the World to Come and in the time after the Resurrection of the Dead. This gets to the essence of our divine service on that day. But why willows? Because the willow branch, one of the four species which we are commanded to hold in our hands during Sukkoth, corresponds with the Yud in HaShem's name which decrees the deserved amount of water for the nations of the world. The other three species appeal to the other three letters of HaShem's name and correspond to the three other physical states of matter: earth (solids), air (gases), and fire (plasma). An understanding of these correspondences is useful to know but not necessary in understanding Rav Kaduri's statement.
What is important to know is that at the very end of our Hoshanah Rabah prayers, we take our aravot bundle – which has been our tool to appeal for the proper judgment of water for the coming year – and whack it on the ground five times.
Here, the explanation for what we are doing gets wild and mind-boggling. The world was created with the 22 letters of the Hebrew aleph-bet. With these 22 letters the world was brought to a state of “tohu vavohu” (chaos and void), and with 10 statements the creation was refined to its present state. If it were not for the straight-back shape of an additional five final letters of the aleph-bet, the world would be destroyed with strict justice. These letters are khaf (kh - ך), mem (m - ם), nun (n - ן), pey (p - ף) and tsadee (ts - ץ) which have a different shape when they appear at the end of a word. This straight-back shape is required to prevent the world from being destroyed every time G-d speaks and causes things to happen in history through His words. Without the straight-back shape of these final letters, the world would be reduced to “tohu vavohu,” the state in which the world existed as described in the second verse of the Torah. At the “End of Days,” though, these five final letters will need to be bent into their curved form in order that mankind be judged for its torment of Israel amongst its nations.
By slamming the aravot bundle on the ground we pray that we are sweetening this final judgment so that Israel will be redeemed along with all the righteous gentiles, while the rest of the world pays dearly for its sins. Every generation of Jews for 3315 years since Matan Torah (The Giving of the Torah) has been doing this. First, it was the prophets who did this, and since as the makhzor says we are descendants of these prophets, we do it too. Every time we do this – year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation, century after century – we are building up a storehouse of sweetness so that finally, finally when the world is judged at the End of Days, all of Israel that repents for its sins, along with the righteous amongst the nations, will be saved from the torrent of strict justice that is imposed upon mankind. Until now, not one generation ever got to see the result of their divine service of slamming their aravot on the ground. Until now, not one generation was ever able to taste the sweetness of its divine service.
Until the tsunamis hit on the 14th of Tevet 5765.
Finally, finally, according to the kabbalist sage Kaduri, in the year 5765 after creation, it is our generation, the 111th since the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which was privileged to witness the result of the first whack of our collective beating of our aravot throughout the last 3315 years of Jewish history.
Now let us examine these five letters more closely. According to the Maharal of Prague, the Rav of Prague in the 16th century, in his commentary on Zechariah Chapter 6, these five letters correspond with five of the seven shepherds of Israel: Avraham, Yitzchak, Yakov, Moshe and David (actually, Mashiach ben David). Each shepherd is associated with a pasuk (biblical verse) which represents him in which his corresponding letter is repeated in at least two or three adjoining words. For example, Avraham Avinu (our Patriarch Abraham) is associated with the khaf from “Lekh Lekha” (“Go for yourself.” Gen. 12:1) Yitzchak Avinu is tied to the letter mem from the verse which is an admonition from Avimelech to leave Gaza: “Atzamta mimenu meod.” (“You have greatly waxed stronger than us.” Gen. 26:16) Yakov Avinu’s letter is nun from “Hatzileni Na Meyad Achi Meyad Esau.” (“Save me from the hand of my brother from the hand of Esau.” Gen. 32:12) This, of course, is Yakov's plea to G-d when he is returning from Haran and Esau is approaching with an army of 400 Centurions, each with 100 more men following them. The letter pey refers to Moshe: “Pakod pakaditi.” (“I will surely remember you” or “I will surely do an accounting of you on the side of redemption.” Ex. 3:16) This is the sign of the prospective redeemer who was to take Israel out of Egypt through the Hand of G-d. Finally, the letter tsadee is assigned to David and Mashiach ben David from the pasuk in Zechariah: “Hineh ish tzemach shmo umitachtav yitzmach uvanah eth heichal HaShem.” (“Behold, here is a man whose name is Tzemach and through his offspring or in his stead he will sprout or flourish. And he will build HaShem's sanctuary.” Zech. 6:12) Here, Zechariah is referring to two separate people. In the context of the prophecy, Tzemach is most probably Zerubavel from the House of King David who traveled back from Bavel with approximately 42,000 exiles with a decree from Koresh, King of Persia, who had just conquered Bavel. Yitzmach is a probable reference to Mashiach ben David who may also be a descendent of Zerubavel, but is most definitely a descendent of David. We know this from the context of the prophecy in which both the King and the High Priest are at peace with each other, a situation never realized during the 2nd Temple period, especially because during the period of the Hashmonaim (The Maccabean kings), the High Priest was the King. Also, at no other time during the 2nd Temple period except for Zerubavel himself did Judea actually have a king from the House of David.
Arutz 7 quoted the December 12 article in Yediot Acharonot. “The Messiah is already [here] in Israel,” says Rav Kaduri. “…Great tragedies in the world are foreseen, that’s the thing of the Jews going to the East.” Is it possible he was referring to American Jews who have wandered off to the East? Probably not, since the bulk of the Jews who were wandering around Thailand came from Israel, not America. Going back to the idea of the five shepherds of Israel that are associated with those five verses revealed by the Maharal, two of them, Yitzchak and Yakov, were born here. One of them, Mashiach ben David is already here. The other two, Avraham and Moshe, were prospective olim (those who leave their countries of birth to “go up” and live in Israel). One made it here while the other was not permitted to enter by G-d himself. The important point to understand about them is that Rav Kaduri was not referring to an event that would bring massive Aliyah (immigration or “going up” to Israel) but rather to an event that would bring those who were born here back from their wanderlust. At least at this juncture, from this specific event, Avraham and Moshe were to be left out of the process. The final khaf and the final pey would not be bent by this catastrophe. Yet, the other three letters would be sweetened. The tsadee from the scion of David who is in our midst would combine with the letters representing the two shepherds of Israel that were born here, the nun from Yakov and the mem from Yitzchak. From this we see that the first catastrophe that would befall the world to make way for Mashiach would be a ts-n-m-, all three letters in their bent sweetened state. That is the essential reason why the deadliest tsunami in recorded history took place two weeks after Yediot Aharonot quoted Rav Kaduri.
Here you may ask was not the death toll horrendous? How dare you condemn the 289,000+ who died for being wicked evil people! On this I whole-heartedly agree. I do not dare. On this point one must understand Hoshanah Rabah. On Hoshana Rabah, the 21st day of Tishrei, the decree that was decided on Rosh HaShanah, the 1st of Tishrei and the New Year commemorating the creation of Man, is sent into the physical world of flesh and blood. Every individual Jew's this-worldly providence is handed out to him on that day. Yet, also on that day only the collective providence is handed out for every gentile nation. Notice that the individual amongst the gentiles is not singled out for special judgment on that day. Only on Rosh Hashanah is the fate of the soul of every human being decided as to whether it will have eternal life or whether it shall be extinguished upon death. The this-worldly judgment on Hoshanah Rabah, the day that Israel beats the willow branches on the ground five times, for the gentiles is only a national judgment. It is not a day of judgment for individual gentiles. Sadly and bitterly the gentiles who kept G-d's laws of common decency died with those who did not.
Having said that, there is one statement about the judgment of this tsunami which can be made, and that is that these ten nations that lost two or more lives deserved their fate. HOW DARE I SAY THAT, you may ask! The answer is as follows. On the eve of Rosh HaShanah 5761, a vicious war to wipe Israel off the face of the map began in the Holy Land. This war began after the then Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered to throw in the kitchen sink as he gave into every Palestinian demand except for one. He would not accept the extinction of the state by allowing every pretend resident of the Holy Land to return to their non-existent home within Israel’s pre-1967 border (the 1949 armistice line) making the Jewish state, the burning ember of Jewish survival, obsolete. When Arafat realized that his charade of peace would achieve for him no more concessions, the butchery of unarmed Jewish civilians began. Every Jew was a target. The living Hell of the Gehinnom (The Underworld) was brought to every nook and cranny of this Holy Land. The armed soldier was not his target. The JEW was his target! Every suckling baby, every teenage schoolgirl, every innocent with blood running through his veins. These were his targets from Day One. The line between murdering children in Ma'alot in the 1970s and blowing up this restaurant or that Pesach Seder is direct. Yassir Arafat, born in Cairo long before 1948, may be the hero of the French Republic, but on heaven's ledger is boiling away in his own bodily fluids with Bil'am in the adjoining tank somewhere beneath the 7th level of Dante's Hell.
Yet, when Israel dared to react and defend itself in retaliation for the savage mutilation of unarmed Israeli soldiers brutally murdered in Ramallah in October of the year 2000, the United Nations General Assembly, in an emergency session, approved by 92-6 a resolution condemning Israel’s “use of force.” 46 nations abstained. The date was Friday, October 20, 2000, coinciding with the 21st of Tishrei 5761, or Hoshanah Rabah. That is right. On the Day of Judgment for the nations of the world it was Israel that was on trial and condemned that evening for daring to survive. Included amongst the 92 condemners were Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand and United Republic of Tanzania. Who in the literal hell do they think they are to sit in judgment of G-d's first born!! It is noteworthy that Kenya abstained. Only one person died there. Also even more noteworthy is the fact that the tsunami took place in the Indian Ocean and not in the South Pacific where tsunamis are far more common because of the constant seismic activity around the Ring of Fire. Yet, listed amongst the nations that voted against the resolution are five nations which have coasts on the Pacific Ocean: Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Tuvalu, and, of course, the United States. It would not have made sense to have a judgment for condemning Israel take place in the Pacific Ocean.
It must be stressed that this was a tragedy of “biblical” proportions. Thousands died and were injured because they were caught up in the judgment. Their deaths and injuries were decreed by the Creator on Rosh Hashanah for reasons unknown except to Him. But it is our responsibility and obligation to do everything within our capacities to help the lives of the victims and their families. G-d only knows the reward for the chesed we do at this time in response to this judgment. In this vein this most awesome judgment must be understood in terms of the sanctification of G-d’s holy name. Within hours after the tsunami, the various victim nations were involved with either burying or cremating their dead. There was only one group of volunteers on the scene who had both the expertise and, sadly, the experience to properly identify bodies. Because of their volumes of bitter experience here in Israel, the Zaka volunteers successfully identified almost all Israelis who were intermingled with the thousands of dead in Thailand, in particular, and throughout South Asia in general. They were so efficient with their methods of identification that these men with pe’ot (sideburns left untrimmed because of Torah injunction not to shave the corners of one’s head) down to their shoulders, for one week at least, were the most sought after men in Southern Asia for the purpose of helping the other nations who had co-nationals on the scene. As of this writing, only five Israelis are confirmed dead, and two are still missing. The vast majority of the thousands of Jews who were following their wanderlust in the East have returned home unharmed. The kabbalist sage was right on the money. Most were brought back alive, thank G-d.
In addition to all of this Israeli chesed, the billions of dollars in world-wide chesed that was exhibited to alleviate the suffering from this tragedy should not be diminished before the heavenly throne. The countries that contributed these billions should be rewarded as long as they do not use their acquired merit to heap more scorn on G-d’s first-born, for I am sure the L-rd is not yet finished with His judgment of Man. There are still four whacks left in the storehouse of all the collective beating of aravot throughout the generations. It is just too bad, and demonstrably anti-semitic, that Sri Lanka in their hour of need refused all human assistance from Israel during the critical time when Israeli doctors could have saved lives and when Zaka volunteers could have identified bodies. Hatred by this small country off the boot of India seems to know no bounds. Perhaps this is why of all the countries to have been hit by this disaster, Sri Lanka was hit the hardest in terms of their population. Over 30,900 people from Sri Lanka are now known to be dead, 0.16% of its total population. Another 5000+ are still missing, now presumed to be dead. True, two weeks after the tragedy they sent a thank you note to Israel via a third party for the bounty of supplies that they did accept from Israel. Interestingly, less than 10% of their country is Muslim. Yet, all of these years they have been so frightened of their Muslim population that they voted like puppies to condemn Zion.
Let us look again more closely at the bent letters that have been released upon the world and their associated biblical verses according to the Maharal. Besides the tsadee which obviously represents the sprouting of the House of David, the mem should stick out because of the verse that it represents, Avimelech’s admonition to Yitzchak to leave Gaza. It is not an accident that during the week after the tsunami, the Sharon government received a boost from the most unexpected source, fervently Orthodox Ashkenazic Jews, or at least at this juncture it “seems” that he received a boost, in the implementation of his evil plan to yank Jews out of their rightful homesteads in Gaza. I do understand the nature of the need to feed starving teachers of Torah and their large families in the Hareidi (fervently orthodox) world. One can only pray that in the merit of all that new and more concerted Torah learning that they will do, Hashem will reverse this situation and turn Sharon or his successor around, away from the side of despair and darkness. Or perhaps that is why these sages joined all along. One can only pray that this aspect of the attribute of Din (judgment) on the world will pass before the worse scenario occurs in Gaza. Just one word to the wise. According to the Rashbam (Rav Shimon ben Meir), grandson of Rashi (11th century France), Yitzchak’s need to flee from Gaza may have originated from his father’s (Avraham Avinu’s) peace treaty with Avimelech. It was a treaty for three generations, and it involved Avraham’s acceptance of Avimelech’s control of Gerar and all lands to the west of Gerar for those three generations. Because Avraham was so happy to make this treaty for his son’s generation, G-d immediately tested him with the sacrifice of his son for whom he thought he had just sealed this wonderful peace treaty. G-d was very upset with Avraham. In G-d’s eyes, Gaza was not for sale even with a cultured fellow like Avimelech. How much more so would G-d be upset if Gaza were abandoned to the enemies of Israel with no peace treaty whatsoever.
Secondly, we have the nun, Yakov’s plea “to save me from the hand of my brother from the hand of Esau.” Here the double language “the hand of my brother” and “the hand of Esau” does not go unnoticed by our sages. Esau has two faces, one where he behaves like our brother and one where he hunts us down, for we received Yitzchak’s inheritance in the World to Come while Esau did not. Understanding that Esau only has his glory in this world is the key to understanding both faces. On one hand, Esau is determined to do what is right to inherit this world. Yet, even as our brother, he will turn on us in desperation when he sees that this world, in which the purpose of serving G-d is to make money, is about to end. On the other hand, the second face of Esau which hates Israel from the outset for usurping his Olam Haba sets out to destroy us by governing the world with rules which are impossible for us to live by. The first face of Esau, I believe, is none other than George W. Bush. He wants to be our brother, but his deals with the Saudis to keep the world price of oil from sky-rocketing prevent him from being our true brother. When Esau’s governance of this world and its prosperity are at stake, he will sell us out in a Texas minute. The second more ominous face of Esau is our good enemies in the European Union who, now that Germany, France, and Rome are all one, would squash us the minute that they could get the chance.
Somehow both faces of Esau have been unleashed upon Israel as a result of the tsunami. Israel is truly the sheep amongst seventy wolves. Only our Father in Heaven can save us now. “For the L-rd will annul the Council of Nations, and He will disrupt the intentions of Peoples.”(Psalm 33) The stage is set. It seems that the Final Act of the kingdom of Man has commenced. Oh G-d, Hoshanah! (Save us now!)
 See the Artscroll Sukkoth makhzor (holiday prayer book) commentary on the special prayer said just after beating the branches on the ground.
 It is worth noting that Somalia also lost hundreds of lives in the tsunami. For a reason unknown to this author, they were not present at this particular vote. Yet, of all the nations on planet earth, the one nation that rose to principally sponsor the infamous 1975 “Zionism is Racism” Resolution was Somalia. When the resolution was repealed on Dec. 16, 1991, Somalia was one of the few non-Arab Muslim nations which voted against repeal. The two other non-Arab nations that voted against the repeal were Indonesia and Sri Lanka. These two countries by one order of magnitude had the highest death toll in the tsunami. To their credit, only India and Thailand amongst the ten victim countries voted for repeal, even though in 1975 India had voted for the Zionism = Racism resolution while Thailand had abstained.
 Arutz 7 – Israelnationalnews.com, “Israeli Teams Bring Number of Missing Down to 3,” Jan. 2, 2005
 This figure comes from a letter written on December 28, 2004 by Rabbi Yosef C. Cantor, the Executive Director of the Chabad of Thailand, who wrote in his appeal to the Jewish public for urgent funding that “Chabad has been instrumental in notifying thousands of Israelis in Thailand who have not been affected by the quake to contact their families back home.”
 S.R. Hirsch on Num. 29:13 discussing Ezek. 38-39 tells us that at the End of Days this personality characteristic of Esau that will sell us out for prosperity is a principal characteristic of Gog from the Land of Magog.
 Gemarah Megillah 6b