We can all see the shift in weather this morning as tropical storm Hilary starts to affect California. And even though this tropical storm keeps getting downgraded (it is Category 1 as of this morning), everyone needs to be prepared. Please make sure you are safe, have flashlights and candles (in case of a power outage), and that you have food, water, and supplies if needed.
IF YOU EXPERIENCE ANY SIGNIFICANT PROBLEM OR ARE IN DANGER AT ALL, PLEASE EMAIL ME AT Rabbi@NerSimcha.org AND HELP WILL BE ARRANGED AND ON IT'S WAY. If you are able to help any families that get displaced or experience challenges, please email me at Rabbi@NerSimcha.org as soon as you can.
At the same time, our faith is clear about the spiritual power and importance of weather, so here are a few tidbits to study and ponder as you bundle up inside...
The talmudic sage Rava (Rabbi Abba ben Joseph bar Hama, 3rd century) makes one of the most famous statements about precipitation in the Talmud. "Snow brings benefits to the mountains; strong rain to the trees; light rain to fruit, and drizzle is even beneficial to a seed under a clod of earth" (Ta'anit 4a). So let's look at this storm not as a curse, but as a needed blessing for the trees and plants.
Taking this teaching even deeper, we can make a correlation of the trees, who are now about to receive a strong rain, and understand their importance.
The Torah and her teachings are called a "Tree of Life"; and according to the great Rabbi Akiva, "the greatest principle in the Torah is to love your neighbor like yourself" (Bershit Rabbah 24:7). This concept of loving our neighbor is elucidated in Leviticus 19:18, and for 2000 years has been considered to be paramount in our personal behavior.
And yet, we have seen this principle violated at every opportunity in our culture in recent times. Neighbors don't take care of each other (and often don't even know each other); we turn our backs on those in need; and our leaders all too often promote hate rather than respect. More and more, we have seen political leaders base their campaigns and words on "being against" their neighbor, rather than being for this principle of taking care of each other. Hate and anger against those we disagree with has supplanted this value of genuinely loving each other.
From a kabbalistic point of view, this may be why it is so necessary to have a challenging storm affect us all in this time. Maybe it will help us realize that we need to take care of each other instead of creating divisions and hatred based on disagreements. Perhaps the storm will remind us all that it is imperative that we support each other, and truly express love through action towards our neighbors. It is worth considering that this challenging storm may just be a gift from God to encourage us all to take better care of each other. Not to just take care of our friends, but to take special care of those we disagree with or even dislike.
There are two dangerous aspects to a tropical storm: the rain and the wind. We say that "God causes the rain to fall and the wind to blow" (liturgy recited during the winter), and this is not only accurate during the winter, but is always true. This statement is one of a deep faith that the weather is always a gift from God, even when we don't realize it. We just discussed part of the deeper meaning of the rain, but what about the wind?
The Hebrew word ruach means both "wind" and "spirit". The intense winds of a tropical storm is a teaching that we all need to be more aware of the spiritual influence that is actually at the root of our existence. Judaism teaches that we are not to act like animals with each other. We are not physical beings who occasionally have spiritual experiences. Rather, we are spiritual beings who are having physical experiences. This storm has the potential to remind us all of what is truly important on a spiritual level: taking care of each other. Loving each other as ourselves. Supporting each other as spiritual passengers traveling on the same ship of a physical experience together.
So instead of a "curse", let us all look at this storm as a blessing. A reminder to stop any action that hurts or degrades anyone else, and instead, to truly embrace that all of us are on the same journey in life.
Again, the simplest way to do this as this storm approaches is to just reach out to neighbors, friends, and especially those with whom we disagree with and support each other in any and every way needed.
If you are in trouble or can help others who are facing challenges, please reach out to me directly. From a deeply spiritual point of view, this is one of the great lessons of this storm. As Rabbi Hillel said, "Do not separate yourself from the community".
May we all stay safe (and dry) as we embrace this teaching of the storm: to awaken and rededicate ourselves to lives of supporting, loving, and taking care of each other.
I look forward to seeing you at the upcoming High Holiday services (if you have not yet registered, please do so by clicking here), and to us all awakening to living more consciously as a result of the teachings of the storm.
Rabbi Michael Barclay
August 20th, 2023
3rd of Elul 5783