Friday, August 26, 2011, 6:11 PM
The weekly pre-shabbas message from Rabbi Yochonon Goldman relates the subject of hurricanes (obviously, a very popular subject in the Philadelphia area right now) to the spiritual qualities of the upcoming Jewish-calendar months of Elul and Tishrei (the latter of which begins the new Jewish year).
Rabbi Goldman presides over Historic Congregation B’nai Abraham at 527 Lombard Street in Center City/Society Hill. His weekly message is the following:
By now, we all know how hurricanes happen. Ironically, the high-pressure winds of a hurricane are triggered by low-pressure air pockets that form over warm waters. These air pockets push unstable updrafts of warmer, lighter air into the higher, colder atmosphere and generate a whirlwind-like affect. The whirlwind is fueled by the heat and energy that are released from the ocean’s warm surface. Before long, a tropical depression is formed, which spins and gains power, until it comes to be categorized a storm, and ultimately a hurricane.
This Shabbat, we bless the upcoming new month of Elul. The days of Elul are called the days of “Divine forgiveness and kindness”. The hurricane can be used as a metaphor for our relationship with G-d, particularly as experienced in the tempestuous holiday season of Tishrei which follows this month of preparation.
1) The Storm Forms (Rosh Hashanah)
We stand before G-d penitent and reticent, because we aren’t particularly proud of our behavior over the past year. We acutely sense G-d’s loftiness and our own lowliness. This moment of “low pressure” has the potential to touch off a storm of hurricane proportions. This storm, however, is not destructive; it is a hurricane of positive energy, a hurricane of love between us and G-d.
As we reflect on the distance we have placed between G-d and ourselves, we remember how important G-d is to every one of us and how intensely we desire closeness to him. The upward flow of desire from us to G-d finds its answer above and triggers a response flow from G-d to us. The opposite flows of current–the updraft flowing from us to G-d and the downdraft returning from G-d to us–feed this storm of love and unleash the tremendous power of the soul.
2) The Eye of the Storm (Yom Kippur)
One of the amazing features of the hurricane is its “eye.” Though the winds rage most fiercely around it, the epicenter of the hurricane is cloudless and calm.
At the center of our spiritual storm is the eye. A place of calm, steadfast connection that is never threatened and never wavers. It is the core of our soul that never veers off course and that is completely untouched by the storms raging in the outer regions of our lives. This is a place of unmitigated strength, this is a bond of unwavering intensity, this is a beauty of immeasurable quality.
While the “eye” seems almost oblivious to the storms surrounding it, in truth, it is their center, the core around which everything revolves.
3) Landfall (Sukkot and Simchat Torah)
The soul marshals its growing strength and races towards land at breakneck speed.
“Land” in this sense is the body, which is the vehicle that fulfills G-d’s commandments (mitzvot) and gives expression to the bond that we share.
When this storm makes landfall it does not unleash a fury of destruction but a fury of unbridled passion for G-d and for Torah. It explodes in a flurry of mitzvah actions, with an undying yearning for all things holy, an undying commitment for all things G-dly and an undying attraction to Divine beauty.
4) Chain Reaction (The Rest of the Year)
Another feature of the hurricane is that once a storm is brewing it causes a ripple effect across the ocean. Otherwise calm regions are affected. They either experience storms of their own or at least feel the effects of the first storm as it passes across their shores from a distance. Either way, everyone in the vicinity is affected.
On a spiritual level, every mitzvah we do unleashes a storm of G-dly energy, which, in turn, triggers more storms. If we each go home today and do but one mitzvah, we will have drawn countless storms of G-dly energy into our world. Each of these storms will in effect provoke storms of their own, when they inspire other people to perform mitzvahs of their own, who in turn will inspire even more people to perform yet more mitzvahs.
In total, each one of us can generate hundreds if not thousands maelstroms of their own. Our single action can have an incalculable affect upon the world around us. We can literally storm the world with the power of our hurricane.
The customs of Elul are meant to help us tune into the spirit of the times and to attune ourselves. Click here to learn more about the customs of Elul.
(With thanks to Rabbi Lazer Gurkow.)
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yochonon Goldman