Posts Tagged 'Earthquake'

Shift Happens: Beyond Crying in on an Ottoman

We recently became beneficiaries of a lovely sectional sofa. It forms a lovely “U” shape and it left us thinking that maybe we should find an ottoman to go in the middle. Because I am a curious person that got me thinking, why is this piece of furniture is named after the Turkish Empire?

The ottoman traces its roots to furnishing practices in the Ottoman Empire, where it was the central piece of residential seating, generally designed as a low wooden platform intended to be piled with cushions. It was first designed as sectional furniture that wrapped around three walls of a room, before evolving into smaller versions that fit into the corner of a room or circular padded seats surrounding a column or pole in a public room. The ottoman was eventually brought to Europe from the Ottoman Empire in the late 18th century and named after its place of origin. It is also thought to have this name as the piece of furniture in the room just as the Ottoman Empire was centrally located.

These ideas came together for me recently in a scary way with two of earthquakes in Turkey and Syrian. Looking at the map we see that the Anatolian Plate is a continental tectonic plate that is separated from the Eurasian plate and the Arabian plate by the North Anatolian Fault and the East Anatolian Fault respectively. Most of the country of Turkey is located on the Anatolian plate. Most significant earthquakes in the region have historically occurred along the northern fault, such as the 1939 Erzincan earthquake. The devastating 2023 Turkey–Syria earthquake occurred along the active East Anatolian fault at a strike slip fault where the Arabian plate is sliding past the Anatolian plate horizontally.

Looking at how so many tectonic plates come together in Turkey we see how in so many ways this is a the center of the world.

This got me thinking about what the ancients experiences of earthquakes. We see in the Gemara:

Rav Ketina was once walking along the road when he came to the entrance of the house of a necromancer and an earthquake rumbled. He said: Does this necromancer know what is this earthquake? The necromancer raised his voice and said: Ketina, Ketina, why would I not know? Certainly this earthquake occurred because when the Holy One, Blessed be God, remembers God’s children who are suffering among the nations of the world, God sheds two tears into the great sea. The sound of their reverberation is heard from one end of the earth to the other. And that is an earthquake. Rav Ketina said: The necromancer is a liar and his statements are lies. If so, it would necessitate an earthquake followed by another earthquake, one for each tear. The Gemara comments: That is not so, as it indeed causes an earthquake followed by another earthquake; and the fact that Rav Ketina did not admit that the necromancer was correct was so that everyone would not mistakenly follow him.

Berakhot 59a-b

In light of this Gemara the pairing of the two earthquakes in Turkey is haunting. In the context of the original situation this might have been related to ancient intuition regarding earthquakes and aftershocks. On the level of polemics it might have been that Rav Ketina knew that the necromancer was right, but did not want to admit that in public. On a theological level this presents a challenging theodicy. How is it possible that an all powerful God be benevolent? What do we do when bad things happen to good people? God’s tears are not enough.

On a deeper level one would have to understand that the mere existence of tectonic plates speak to the literal broken nature of the world. This reminds me of one of my favorite lessons by Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson. He said,” If you see what needs to be repaired and know how to repair it, then you have found a piece of the world that God has left for you to perfect. But if you only see what is wrong and what is ugly, then it is you yourself that needs repair.” This is to say we cannot sit at home crying on our ottomans and just watch the tragedy in Turkey. Clearly the world is broken and this is our invitation to get out there and help fix it.


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