What should we do if trouble affects a society?

From the text of Maimonides (Rambam), Laws of Fasts 1:2-3: “…when a difficulty arises [which affects a community], and the people cry out [to G-d in prayer to save them]… everyone will realize that [the difficulty] occurred because of their [wrong] conduct… This [realization, and their repentance and prayers] will cause the removal of this difficulty from among them.”
“Conversely, should the people fail to cry out [to G-d]… and instead say, ‘What has happened to us is [merely a natural phenomenon, as is] customary in the world,’ this [sin of denial] is added on to their wrongdoings.”

This is explained in the book Seven Gates of Righteous Knowledge, in the Sixth Gate: “The Gate of Being Tested by G-d”, Chapter 2:

What is their additional sin, in the second case? By ignoring the message of the difficulty that was originally sent to them from G-d, as a sign from Heaven, they are portraying the acts of G-d in the world as random [G-d forbid] …, and they deny the truth of His ways (even though this was clearly taught by all the prophets of the Hebrew Bible)…

A trouble that comes upon a community results from their sins as a community. For example, the community in general may be accepting of a particular serious sin or immoral behavior that many of the people there commit regularly as their normal way of acting. Some examples in the Hebrew Bible are: the generations of: the Flood and the Tower of Babel; [1] the metropolis around Sodom [which practiced cruelty and sexual immorality] in the days of Abraham; [2] the city of Nineveh [where the people indulged in theft and extortion] in the days of the prophet Jonah; [3] and the Land of Israel [when the people sinned through idolatry and drunkenness] in the days of the prophet Joel. [4]

If the people admit their wrongdoing, stop the sinful behavior that caused this, and collectively repent, they will be forgiven, and the trouble will be averted as G-d did for the people of Nineveh, [5] or removed as in the time of Joel.


[1] Genesis 6:1-5,11 and 17:1-9, respectively.

[2] Genesis 18:20, and 19:4,5,9.

[3] Jonah 1:2 and 3:5-10.

[4] Joel 1:5 and 2:27.

[5] Jonah 3:1-10.

This web page is adapted from the book Seven Gates of Righteous Knowledge by Rabbi Moshe Weiner of Jerusalem, the Sixth Gate (The Gate of Being Tested by G-d), ch. 2 (A Trouble or Tribulation that Comes Upon Society…). You may click this link for the book to read it on-line.