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Hot Weather


Rabbi Berel Wein

The recent spell of extreme heat here in Jerusalem has been the topic on the street and in all of the gathering places of people here. Mark Twain’s comment about the weather, "Everyone talks about it but no one can do anything about it" is certainly an accurate observation about how weather affects our life. Though I would imagine that Bedouins living in the Arabian desert in July and August do not discuss the weather they face with the same intensity and frequency that we Jerusalemites did last week. It is not only the weather per se that provokes our preoccupation with it. It is that we deem it unusual, exceptional, extreme that drives our thoughts and conversations. We ask others older than us if they can recall such a spell of extremely hot temperatures in Jerusalem in their lives. We wish to somehow be certain that this was really an unusual experience, a fluke of nature, something to be endured temporarily and not likely to return in the foreseeable future. Of course we know if we but think about it that all of the above is nonsense. It is the unusual that is usual in life and that the unexpected and unplanned for is the basic fabric of life’s existence. Professors pontificate about global warming caused by modern human habits of consumption and abusive technology but who knows if this warming trend, if it really does exist, is merely part of a cycle of warming and it is a part of a cycle of nature that nature follows over many millennia. Who knows? In any event it really was very hot last week here in Jerusalem.

The Torah views extreme weather conditions, unusual for the place and season that it occurs as evidence of God’s presence in history and part of His constant revelation, so to speak, to humans. The devastating floods in Pakistan, the hurricane in Haiti, the tsunami in East Asia are all somehow manifestations of God’s authority over us. Even though there is no way for us to understand or explain why these events occurred and why to those sections of humanity - the ways of the Lord are completely hidden from us - there is no doubt that they serve to illustrate human puniness in the face of God’s natural forces. When I was a rabbi in Miami Beach my family and I experienced a number of hurricanes during our stay there. The hurricanes invariably arrived before Rosh Hashanah during the month of Elul. I always remarked to my children, to my students at the local yeshiva and to my congregants that the hurricane was the strongest and most influential mussar -ethical and religious - lecture that anyone could deliver at that time of introspection and attempted self-improvement. The prophet Samuel to prove his message to Israel about the dangers of monarchial rule invoked a rainstorm in Israel in mid-summer when it usually never rains. Moshe in attempting to convince Pharaoh to free the Jews brought major natural disasters upon Egypt to prove his point and illustrate God’s will to the hard-hearted king. Throughout the Bible it is the unexpected and unusual natural phenomenon that is employed to remind a stubborn people of their duties and obligations to God and His value system and Torah.

There is no power of prophecy extant in our midst today. No one can therefore point to natural exceptionalism and teach us an immediate lesson from its occurrence. But as the Days of Awe approach it is obvious to us that the beginning of faith and religious accomplishment lies not so much in the minutiae of the law, as important and vital and necessary as that undoubtedly is, but rather in the acknowledgment of the supremacy of the Divine will in human affairs. Rosh Hashanah is in reality a coronation service and commemoration. God is referred to as king and not only as God. It is the existence of the all powerful force, not understood nor controlled in any way by human beings and our resources and wisdom that govern our lives. So in a strange way, talking about the weather and its extremes leads us to talking or at least thinking about our Creator and His influence on our lives. So-called normalcy, in weather, personal and national events, or even in mundane events breeds complacency and apathy. It is the unusual event, the "black swan," that stirs the pot and causes humans to assess their true thoughts, beliefs and positions in life. So, even though I am convinced that all of you, like me, are delighted that it has cooled off outside even slightly, we should gain spiritually and emotionally from the experience of the recent exceptional weather as we prepare for the High Holy Days.
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