A catastrophe, by its very nature, brings a halt to the flow, a break in the routine of life.
This break gives one the time to take stock and review.
Another effect of catastrophe is shock–the confusion that seizes individuals and communities in times of disaster.
Normally, routine is the common element of daily life everywhere, the element that prevents man from reexamining his circumstances, because human beings are creatures of habit.
People become accustomed to, and learn to live with, not only good things but also those that are–even in their own eyes–undesirable.
The sages have pointed out that if a man commits a transgression and "sleeps on it," then that transgression is, as it were, sanctioned.
In other words, when one sins knowingly and then repeats the same sin or error, it becomes part of one's routine and one no longer pays attention to it as something requiring correction.
Shock jolts man out of his rut and enables him to look at things anew, to reexamine his life.
What is more, catastrophe usually forces one to admit mistakes and to recognize that things are not all they should be, since in normal times man devises all manner of means to avoid the unpleasant recognition of failing and error.
To be sure, a little enlightened foresight before a crisis occurs might have revealed that all was not as it should be and that there was a need for change.
Such awareness, however, is not common, and in most cases not even desired by the people concerned.
For this reason, it is only when things cannot be denied, at the moment of truth, that one is forced to admit that one did not act as one should have.
Yet even then, even at this hour of greatest need, the defense mechanisms that prevent us from searching our souls in the first place may persist.
–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From "Soul Searching" in The Strife of the Spirit by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz