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A Hot Summer


Rabbi Berel Wein

Summer in Israel is always hot but there are some that feel hotter than most others. I don’t know whether statistically this summer is hotter than average, but to this old rabbi it certainly has felt so. But the temperatures have been extremely high in most parts of the United States as well, so that my family there and I sympathize with each other when we speak on the phone - and then all of us somehow feel more comfortable than we did before we spoke. The rabbis have taught us that troubles and discomforts that are universal carry with them a portion of comfort as well.

The adaptability of human beings, that enables them to live in all of the extreme climate zones of our earth, is one of the many wonders of human life. And certainly, air conditioning and central heating have tempered the effects of extreme weather conditions on human life. But a majority of the world’s human beings still live in extreme climate zones without any of these modern climate-conquering amenities.

Nevertheless, the climate has a great effect economically and politically on human affairs. In the United States, over the last fifty years, people have been moving to the south and west of the country – increasing that area’s political power and influence. Thus, in American political life, California, Texas and Florida today have a greater degree of influence over the political leadership and direction of the country than does New York and Illinois.

There are economic reasons for this population shift but perhaps the real basic reason is that people want to avoid the harsh winter weather and thus move to sunnier and warmer climes. What I find interesting is that by moving to Texas, Florida or Arizona, one is subject to brutally hot summers. But apparently people somehow are more comfortable adjusting to hot, semi-tropical or desert like summers than to frigid snowy winters.

Here in Israel we have a very healthy climate, as befits the Holy Land – hot summers and mild rainy winters. We have fewer extremes of climate here in Israel than in many of the past large communities where Jews resided, especially in Eastern Europe. Poland, Russia, Lithuania and Ukraine always featured bitter snowy winters and hot dusty summers.

One of the great challenges faced by the Eastern European pioneers here in Israel in the early part of the last century was adjusting to the new climate. The Jews who arrived from Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries faced no such problem with weather adjustment. Israel was, in fact, cooler and more comfortable in the summer than was their old home.

Discarding Eastern European Jewish dress was mainly a cultural statement in line with becoming a "new Jew" (one of the many unfulfilled goals of early Zionism in the country) but it certainly also had very practical overtones to it in the hot summers of the Land of Israel. But because of the "new Jew" aspect to the seemingly more practical and casual Jewish dress, many religious Jews maintained their Eastern European style – fur hats and all – in the broiling summer sun of the Land of Israel.

One such relative once told me: "Pharaoh couldn’t conquer us so how can one expect the weather in the summer to force us to forsake wearing the garb of our forbearers?" There is no weather too hot or any sun too strong to force my relative to forsake wearing his fur hat on Shabat. Such is the power of piety in the Jewish world!

The Talmud tells us that the last blast of summer heat is the one that is the most difficult to bear. It is, so to speak, the straw that breaks the camel’s back. We become tired of the heat and are looking forward for it to break. It is in the nature of human beings to always look forward to change. In the middle of December we will all undoubtedly remember the heat of July and August more fondly than we experience it currently.

Though surveys indicate that weather is one of the most discussed topics in human conversation – it is something that even complete strangers can easily converse about – we are all aware of the truism that we can do precious little about it. So we can discuss the weather, complain about it and long for seasonal changes, but the blunt truth is that we have to adjust and make the best of it. And that is a pretty good metaphor for life generally.
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