On Monday, Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara said the tsunami was needed “to wipe out egoism, which has rusted onto the mentality of Japanese over a long period of time...I think [the disaster] is tembatsu (Japanese for divine punishment), although I feel sorry for disaster victims." On Tuesday, he issued an apology.
On Sunday, Korean pastor David Yonggi Cho said: “Because the Japanese people shun God in terms of their faith and follow idol worship, atheism, and materialism, it makes me wonder if this was not God’s warning to them."
This week's Dvar Malchut (p. 23) brings a piece of advice from Alter Rebbe, author of the Tanya, on how to fight doubt, the inner manifestation of the Jewish enemy of Amalek-Haman:
Sometimes, disappointment at one's own flaws and shortcomings become a great obstacle's in one's service. Yet rather than be frustrated in the face of imperfection, we should instead be astounded and overjoyed that God's light, in the form of words of prayer and Torah, can dwell in such darkness. To become angry or depressed over the discovery of a flaw while serving God indicates that we attribute excessive importance to our own selves. If we approach Torah and mitzvot out of a love for God, then a flaw in ourselves only enhances our awe of God's ways, how his light can extend to all places. Rather than build up an illusion of grandiosity, we know we are imperfect, and we focus on the miraculous kindness God has for us in giving us his own toolbox to improve.
At the end of the teaching, the Alter Rebbe says: "And this is the notion of heisech da'at - by way of distraction - that one distracts one's mind from the place he is to the wisdom of Torah and avodat Hashem (serving God)."
אין משיח בא אלא בהיסח דעת
Mashiach comes by way of distraction (Sanhedrin 97a)
Sometimes, the sentence above from the Talmud is understood as referring to Mashiach coming while we are not paying attention, i.e. from the place we least expect. Here, the Alter Rebbe may be hinting that the inyan (matter) of Mashiach is connected with the tremendous power we have to divert our attention from the seemingly all-powerful and all-inclusive sense of self to a state of consciousness in which God and His infinite wisdom are at the center.
In other words, when you find a flaw in yourself, you can actually use it to actually transcend yourself. So long as we are operating under the illusion that we are all-powerful agents on a road to perfection, even if we are doing mitzvot and learning Torah, it can all be feeding our ego, and ultimately, eclipsing God. But when we stumble, God is nudging us to break down our own idols of ourselves and focus on the true perfection - the light found in Torah, prayer and the mitzvot, whose light is even more striking when it shows up in little-old-me.
The Ba'al Shem taught that the Hebrew letters אני ("I") are the same letters as the word אין (Ayin, "Nothingness", a name of God). The secret is transforming the self into nothingness, and there finding God.
How then, can we understand the occurrence of an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe in the vacinity of the world's largest city and the epicenter of finance, technology and the modern spun-out-of-control lifestyle? On an individual level, every person is engaged in effort to bring kiddush Hashem, or sanctification of God's name, into one's own mind and heart, by making room for God in an ego-dominated consciousness. On a world scale, there are nations that represent the unimpeded strive of the ego, which eclipse God and bolster an illusion of human omnipotence, which is the worst form of idol worship. In the age of Mashiach, this mistake will be corrected, and in the place that egoism and human triumphalism stands, God's glory and kingship will be acknowledged for all to see. Events in Japan are a warning for the entire world, a preparation for the day on which knowledge of God will fill the land as water fills the sea.