Yakov Saacks
Yakov Saacks

Surfside – whom to blame

As of today, the majority of those who perished during the Champlain Tower collapse in Surfside, FL, have been located and returned to their families for burial. There are about one dozen people still missing, which is so painful as we are closing in on three weeks since the building fell.

While we all are equally horrified that this tragedy of epic proportions happened during our lifetime, we are not all equal in our response and in our reactions. As someone who has visited the families and the site, I am amazed that there exists such a diverse group of humans who all have such a different take and view of this horror as far as whom to blame.



We pray every year on the High Holidays in one of the highlights of the service composed by an 11th-century sage, Rabbi Amnon of Mainz, Germany, called the Unsaneh Tokef. The prayer, which reads as follows, is haunting.

“On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed. How many will pass and how many will be created? Who will live and who will die? Who in their time, and who not their time? Who by fire and who by water? Who by sword and who by beast? Who by hunger and who by thirst? Who by earthquake and who by drowning? Who by strangling and who by stoning? Who will rest and who will wander? Who will be safe and who will be torn? Who will be calm and who will be tormented? Who will become poor and who will get rich? Who will be made humble and who will be raised up? But teshuvah and tefillah and tzedakah (repentance and prayer and righteous acts) deflect the evil of the decree.”

Clearly, Rabbi Amnon and the rest of the Jewish world, which adopted this prayer, cedes life and death to the Almighty and to Him alone.


I have been asked by a number of reporters and journalists if I have any firsthand knowledge as to whether the families are pursuing any legal action at this time against the condo board for wrongful death. Aside from the fact that I am not privy to this, I also respond that I believe that the families need to find and then bury their dead before any internal thoughts of lawsuits, let alone talk of them can be had.

I did read though, that a number of lawsuits have already been filed by some of the residents and their families in pursuit of justice. Allegedly, the board was derelict in their duties to make adequate repairs in a timely manner.


There has also been plenty of talk as to whether the builders and architects cut corners in the actual design and building of this condo tower. Unfathomable if true.


These different responses seem to be at odds with each other. Some point the finger at the condo board, while others at the builder and yet others at God who directs all of our individual lives.

Much of my studies has been focused on the mystical teachings of Chassidus and Kabbalah. These foundational wisdoms clearly place the onus and responsibility strictly on God. Truth be told, it is not just a mystical and esoteric teaching, but also a universal Jewish belief.

So, the obvious question that comes to mind is if God is to blame then is it okay or even proper to start blaming, suing and judging others who are mere mortals.

This was God’s will – no?

How do we reconcile this conundrum?


The author, poet, speaker, professor, political activist and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, addressed this very question as it relates to the Holocaust. He wrote, “God did not murder six million Jews. God did not start a destructive war. Human beings did. Since Cain and Abel, we have known human cruelty. God gave us the gift of free will, and we cannot blame God for the way we use it. The Holocaust challenges humanity not God.”

On a similar vein, I once read an article by Alan Lurie who opines, “We can be mad at God for the Holocaust or for other human tragedies, but this is like a teenager who begs you to let him drive a car — promising to be responsible — gets drunk, crashes into a telephone pole, and then blames you for giving him the keys. If we agree that humanity must have free will, we must accept the consequences of its decisions. As Elie Wiesel wrote, ‘After the Holocaust I did not lose faith in God. I lost faith in mankind.’”


Yes, God clearly knows who will ascend to heaven this year and who will be given another shot at life for x number of years. This knowledge however does not negate the fact that there exists human beings who by their greed, jealousy or cruelty step up to the plate to be the one that makes this happen. The fact that God knows the outcome does not absolve the perpetrators of their dastardly decisions and actions or lack thereof.

May we never meet such people.

While human judges will eventually decide what responsibility if any people had in this horror, God already knows.

May God heal broken hearts.

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About the Author
Rabbi Yakov Saacks is the founder and director of The Chai Center, Dix Hills, NY. The Chai Center has been nicknamed by some as New York's most Unorthodox Orthodox Center.
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