Thursday, October 3, 2013

Weather We Like It or Not

Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet. 
Bob Marley

“I’m cold”.
“Excuse me?”
“I’m cold.”
I understood each word individually, but I didn’t understand them together. I asked my sweater-clad daughter to repeat herself one more time, slowly.
"I’m cold”.

I shook my head. Where I come from, the Old Country, cold was when we went indoors and our glasses fogged up. Cold was when we put the extra bread and milk outdoors to freeze when we ran out of room in the fridge. Cold was when we had to plug in the car. Cold was NOT 25 degrees Celsius.

Plugging in your car in the winter
Nonetheless, my daughter was persistent. “I’m cold” she insisted. I continued to scratch my head in perplexity.

Winter in Beer Sheva does not resemble winter in the Old Country, to put it mildly. Of course, summer in Beer Sheva does not resemble summer in the Old Country either, so I suppose it all comes out even.

I’m not really familiar with being cold. Or at least, I’m at the age when I can’t remember being cold. The last I remember was about three years ago when I had to take my then-teen-age son out one evening. It was December, and he was wearing a short-sleeved shirt. “Put on a sweater,” I told him, “it’s cold outside”. He obligingly put on a thin sweater and together we plunged into the dark. As we were walking, I noticed that he hugged his sweater around himself tighter and tighter.
“I told you it was cold,” I said. “You didn’t believe me.”
“I believed you,” he answered. “I just forgot what cold was”.
It was 15 degrees Celsius, with a wind.
That’s Beer Sheva in deep winter.
Not cold enough to plug in your car.

Last week was Rosh Chodesh MarCheshvan (the beginning of the new month of Cheshvan).

The prefix ‘mar’ has been affixed to the name of the month – mar meaning bitter – in reference to the fact that it is the only month of the Jewish year without any official celebrations or holy days. However, our sages say that Cheshvan will be paid back for this slight by having the third Holy Temple inaugurated during this special month (quickly and in our days).

In addition, MarCheshvan has the added significance of being regarded as the start of winter and associated with the first precious drops of rain; a sign – in the Land of Israel – of G-d’s blessings to His People.

Though ‘mar’ is widely held to mean bitter, it has another meaning. Mar also means a drop of water and refers to the first rains that fall in Cheshvan.

The Book of Kings 1 the month refers to Cheshvan as the month of Bool.

וּבַשָּׁנָה הָאַחַת עֶשְׂרֵה בְּיֶרַח בּוּל הוּא הַחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁמִינִי כָּלָה הַבַּיִת לְכָל דְּבָרָיו וּלְכָל מִשְׁפָּטָו, וַיִּבְנֵהוּ שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים. מלכים א 6:38

And in the eleventh year, in the month Bool, which is the eighth month (counting from Nissan [ed note]), was the house finished throughout all the parts thereof, and according to all the fashion of it. So was he (Solomon) seven years in building it. (Kings 1 6:38)

There are different interpretations for the name of Bool. It might refer to the withering or dying summer grasses (baleh) or come from the word yevul (produce) because Cheshvan is the month for reaping the final crop of the summer and beginning the plowing and planting of the winter crop. Most commentaries, however, maintain that the name Bool comes from the fact that Noah’s flood – mabool – (which we read about this Shabbat) started and ended in Cheshvan. Our sages say that the rains started on the 17th of the month and a year later on the 27th Noah and crew docked on Har Arrarat, and on the morrow brought a sacrifice to G-d. And for the first time in recorded history, a rainbow was seen in the sky.

And since Noah’s time, rain features heavily in Cheshvan. On the 7th of the month an important line is added to our prayers requesting rain – “ותן טל ומטר לברכה” “…and grant dew and rain for a blessing”. If no rain has fallen by the 17th of the month, special prayers and fasting begin.

The saying ‘everyone complains about the weather but nobody ever does anything about it’ is not applicable to Judaism.
Not only do we pray for rain, but every day, we say in the shma prayer: And it will come to pass that if you listen to my commandments…. To love your G-d with all your heart and with all your might and with all your soul – then I will provide rain for your land in its proper time, the early and the late rains, that you many gather in your grains… Beware that your heart is not seduced and you turn astray and will serve the gods of others…. The wrath of G-d will blaze against you. He will restrain the heaven so there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its produce. (Deuteronomy 11-13:21)

What does this mean? It means that if we live our lives in a certain way, then rain will fall and our crops will flourish and we’ll have enough to eat, and we don’t they won’t and we will starve.

According to the Torah, rainfall in Israel and the resulting crops are directly dependent on our living a Torah life.

Of course, there are plenty who scoff at such ideas and give statistics of cyclical rainfall, of geographic patterns, fault lines and yada yada yada. They maintain that weather just is.

However, if we take a closer look at the words in Deuteronomy, and if we understand what living a Torah life means, we might see that our actions very much affect the weather.

To love your G-d with all your heart and with all your might and with all your soul – then I will provide rain for your land in its proper time If we love G-d and believe Him to be the source of life, we will have rain. This meaning is simple enough.

Beware that your heart is not seduced and you turn astray and will serve the gods of others…. What are the gods of others? Well, yes, this could mean Zeus and Apollo, but it could also mean: money, power, self-gratification—anything that prevents you from worshiping G-d as He commands. If earning money is more important than keeping Shabbat, or if enjoying a cheeseburger is more urgent than keeping kosher, then we are worshiping other gods.

And so: He will restrain the heaven so there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its produce. If we waste His gifts (the commandments, i.e., Shabbat, kashrut, etc.) and seek self-gratification over love of G-d, then rain won’t fall and the fields won’t yield their bounty.

However, before you ridicule this theory, you must remember that G-d’s gifts to us are not only the commandments. He has also gifted us with an exquisite Land—a holy Land. But if we live a life of waste and are uncaring of G-d’s gifts to us – the environment, the water, natural resources – the weather will change. We know that in the last half century, less rain has fallen, rivers that flowed for millennia have dried up, our lakes have shrunk, and the temperatures have significantly risen. None of those things ‘just happened.’ The causes of all these are man-made; excess use of carbons, pollutions, over-use of water and other resources.
Israel does not have the worst environmental record in the Western world; we are the only country to have ended the 20th century with more trees than at the beginning (1000s more!). Nonetheless, we have a long way to go.

During the month of Tishrei, we look inward and tried to correct the faults in ourselves. Now, in the month of MarCheshvan, it is a good time to look outward – to the outside world and try to do a literal tikkun olam.

On Rosh HaShana, we learn that each mitzvah we undertake has the potential of swinging the balance of the world towards good or evil. So too, each of our small environmental actions has a great impact. Use less water, walk instead of drive. Recycle. Pick up your trash.
We are told over and over the importance of teaching our children mitzvot and passing on our heritage. We should take the same care in passing on our Land – G-d’s greatest gift to us – in the same condition as we received it, or even better.

Use Cheshvan to show a love of G-d’s gifts to us, and therefore of G-d himself, and maybe Cheshvan will be the month of our redemption b’mhera be’hamenu.

Satellite image of the Land of Israel 

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