What is the difference between “a force of nature” and “the hand of G-d”? For the last couple of months, ever since winter officially began here after Simchat Torah, we have added to our daily prayers two ritual, yearly expressions that continue to be said up until Pesach: one that acknowledges that at this time of year G-d “makes the wind blow and the rain fall”, and another that entreats G-d to “give dew and rain for a blessing”. However, the drought that has characterized Israel’s climate so noticeably for the last several years continued up until the last few days, with scarcely a drop of drizzle felt anywhere in the country. High daily temperatures even into December were usually in the 80’s or 90’s, and only the cooling nights betrayed a semblance of the season. Although a combination of dew and irrigation kept Israel’s greenery fairly green, the water level in the Sea of Galilee continued to descend.
A few weeks ago, the Chief Rabbis of Israel requested that everyone add to another of the daily prayers a traditionally prescribed, longer and more intense expression that beseeches the Master of the Universe to heed our calls and prayers for rain. More people recited additional Psalms on a daily basis, both individually and in large, loud groups. Yet still, the heavens withheld their bounty.
Against this climatic and prayer-filled backdrop we witnessed the horror of last week’s catastrophic inferno on the Carmel mountain, which took so many lives, destroyed homes and entire villages, and devastated so many families. Whether it was caused by carelessness or deliberate arson remains to be determined, but from my standpoint, if G-d hadn’t wanted it to happen, it wouldn’t have. The explanations, whys and wherefores at the metaphysical level I leave to those who claim to be more enlightened than I.
And yet, strangely perhaps, not twenty-four hours after the flames were mostly curtailed through the (Divinely-guided) efforts of mere mortals from within Israel and from abroad (thank you, friends), the few smoldering remnants were drenched and finally extinguished by a heavenly downpour that lasted most of a day.
We continued our additional prayers, since one day of rain was not enough. Finally, yesterday evening, the winds intensified — gusting strongly, howling through window gaps and rattling anything that wasn’t tied down firmly. It has persisted all through today, and a friend of mine has just posted on Facebook that the palm tree in his garden has been brought down. We ourselves moved the potted vegetables indoors from our fifth-floor balcony, to reduce the stress on those leaves and stems that weren’t already withered. With the wind has come more rain — not a lot, but noticeably more than drizzle.
Yet despite needing precipitation, this isn’t the benevolent kind one usually hopes for. Breslev Israel has just posted the following on Facebook: “We prayed for rain. We got it – as a dirty, insanely windy, cold, just enough rain to get everything covered in muck storm. Hashem is telling us that we still need more teshuva! Thank You Hashem for this storm, please give us a free gift and send us clean rain to wipe it all away!” One of the people commenting on this announces, “It has been raining like crazy in the Galil since Friday night!!!!”, but another describes only “sandstorms in the Negev”. Geographically, we’re about located halfway between the two regions, not far from the Mediterranean, so we’re experiencing the storm in a different way. The weather stations in the north are reporting snow and/or sleet at Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights. All this meteorological variety in a country about the size of New Jersey!
I suppose that what’s really wondrous about this is that, despite the losses in the Carmel last week, due in great part to the uncontrolled spread of small shrubs and dry underbrush, one does not want to contemplate what the scale of destruction could have been had today’s windstorm taken place a week ago. If there’s a silver lining in the clouds of smoke and rain this week, that could be it.