On Tuesday of this week, exactly one week before Rosh HaShana, Israel awoke to a blinding sandstorm which strangely emanated from the east, from Syria and Iraq. Local meteorologists said that in the 75 years that they had been keeping records they had never seen a sandstorm coming from that direction. Generally we are affected by such storms from time to time that have their source in the Sahara, to the west. But this particular event, which continues even until today, albeit somewhat abated, was stronger than most. It was impossible to see the sun during the day and, at times, even impossible to see the building next door through our windows.
What are we to make of that? As a traditional Jew, and somewhat of a mystic as well, I could see this as a direct message from God. After all, this was not a natural occurrence in meteorological terms, no one could remember such a thing happening previously and even the intensity of the storm was stronger than one would expect here. So there are a number of possibilities.
The first is that the good Lord is not so happy about the way his children are taking care of his world (pardon the less than p.c. way of assigning masculinity to God) and is sending us a message. What could that message be? Simply if you don’t take proper care of my world, including observing my directions to you personally and as a community (which directions, by the way, we are reading in detail in the Torah these current shabbatot), I will make it impossible for you to see even that which is front of your eyes. There is almost a similarity here to the plague of darkness prior to the Exodus from Egypt. And of course in the Torah reading of last week, in Devarim 28:24, we read “God will make the rain in your land powder and dust…..”. Hmmm.
I have no doubt that there are those who would agree with this analysis. But for those for whom this is a bit too “over the top,” there is a second possibility. And that is as we approach the Days of Awe which culminate in the ten days from Rosh haShana to Yom Kippur, that God is simply but forcefully reminding us that we should take nothing for granted. After all everything we do in our lives that depends on sight has been impacted this week by the sandstorm. Flights in the region have been grounded, the elderly and those who suffer from breathing problems have been advised to stay indoors, traffic has slowed to a crawl in the face of reduced visibility and dusk is the order of the day….all day.
This, therefore, is indeed the essential message of this period of introspection, that we should absolutely take nothing for granted. Not our health which can deteriorate in a heartbeat (or lack thereof), not our families for whom we should be grateful every moment, not our livelihoods which can be negatively affected by forces out of our control, and certainly not our relationship to God and his earth, which is already showing significant effects of our misuse of the planet.
So next week when we traditional Jews spend endless hours in the synagogue beseeching the One above to grant us another year of life, and we make all those promises about how we will change our lives, perhaps we should make a series of other, as important commitments. That is, to be more mindful of how we take care of ourselves, to express our love for family more often, to be kinder and more considerate of our business associates, to be more mindful of how we treat the planet and, of course, there is no end to this list.
For at the end of the day, we all want sunshine in our lives, and would prefer not to be blinded by sandstorms independent of how they may have generated.
May all of us have our prayers answered and may we be privileged to communicate a year from now again in good health, happiness and joy in the bosom of a community of loving friends and family.