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Rabbi Arthur Segal’s love of people, humanity, and Judaism has him sharing with others “The Wisdom of the Ages” that has been passed on to him. His writings for modern Jews offer Spiritual, Ethical, and eco-Judaic lessons in plain English and with relevance to contemporary lifestyles. He is the author of countless articles, editorials, letters, and blog posts, and he has recently published two books:

The Handbook to Jewish Spiritual Renewal: A Path of Transformation for the Modern Jew


A Spiritual and Ethical Compendium to the Torah and Talmud

You can learn more about these books at:

Thursday, August 28, 2008


We of course learn early on as we begin to study Talmud Bavli in our first Tractate in our first few pages that there is  a bracha for everything, and for witnessing a strong storm, Beracoth 9.2 tells us to pray: ''Blessed are You, our God, Ruler of the Universe, whose power fills the world.'' And for mild storms, we say: "Blessed are You, our God, who made all of creation."
And the sages in the Gemora of Talmud Yerushalmi go further and say that ha Shem would take a strong wind and lessen its force as it passes through mountains and hills, because God made wind, His breath, to make life, not take life. And the sages, Joshua ben Channaniah and Huna in the name of  Aha, quote Ps. 142:3, and Is. 57:16 as their proof texts (Talmud Yerushalmi Tractate Beracoth 9.2),[ "For from Me proceeds the wind. (Isaiah 57:16)" ; "When my wind is faint. (Psalm 142:3)"
Our rabbis, living in Babylonia and Persia, what is now Iraq and Iran, and our rabbis living in Judea, what is now Israel, as well as our sages who traveled into areas of Arabia, and to Italy, and elsewhere, were more aware, of weather than we humans are today.
We mere mortals are dependent on loud beeps on our TV or radio telling us that a tornado or hurricane is coming, where as the rabbis and their contemporaries could look at their live stock and the birds, and the clouds, and know this, and take appropriate action. Even Dorothy's family in the Wizard of Oz, knew the tornado was coming and took shelter. Our rabbis could see with their eyes, that when winds hit the mountains they lost some force.
Our people lived on the land and the sea. The tribe of Zebullin were sailors. They had to know how to look at the seas and the skies.  And let us not forget that  Jonah was sacrificed by his ship mates because they were caught in a terrible sea storm.
Where there, are there, hurricanes in Israel or Iraq? Yes, but they are call Monsoons. But they had storms as dangerous as monsoons.... Dessert Sand Storms.
Assuming that today's weather is not that far off than the weather of our sages 2500 years ago in  Babylon, and depending on which science you believe, while today at the end of Av, it is a balmy 80 degrees F in Baghdad, if could have been  60 degrees then, or 110 in the shade, our sages still had to deal with some tough winds.
The USA military didn't name the first Gulf War Dessert Storm as some minor pun. A true desert storm with wind and sand and some times hail, can be as deadly as a hurricane, which are called Monsoons when they hit the Gulf states or Eliat or the Asian coast of the Mediterranean.
Keep in mind that Iraq, which is what they called themselves from the 6th century onward, means in Persian, lowlands, ironically, the same as what Holland's true name is, the Netherlands. If it wasn't for both countries' dike and canal systems, they would be continual flooding and loss of life and property.
We can assume that before ancient Iraq got its dike and canal system together flooding with loss of life was common, as we can see from the Gilgamesh story which predates our Noah tale in the Chumash.
 Dust Storm Bedevils Iraq

  April 29 —Mother Nature launched her own desert storm in western Iraq near the Syrian and Jordanian border earlier this week. U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Shannon Arledge snapped this photo of an encroaching dust storm at Al Asad . The tempest reportedly lasted 45 minutes and may have reached a mile (1.6 kilometers) into the sky.
The unusually strong sandstorm was caused by a downburst. "A downburst is a strong downdraft resulting in an outward burst of damaging winds at ground level."  "Downburst winds can produce damage similar to a strong tornado."
Dust storms that turn day to night are not unique to the Middle East. In China windborne clouds of dust from Inner Mongolia blanket the far-off capital, Beijing, nearly a dozen times a year. In North Africa, Sahara sandstorms can whip dust into the upper atmosphere, transporting the dust to Greenland and beyond. Australia is not immune, either. Dust storms kicked up in the outback can enshroud the city of Melbourne, hundreds of miles distant.

Dust plumes blew through central Iraq and over the Persian Gulf in mid-June 2008. Like the Iraq dust storm earlier in the month, these plumes result from a shamal. A shamal is a northwesterly wind that often blows over the floodplain of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, whose fine sediments provide substantial material for dust storms in the region.
Israel gets sand storms, hail storms, rain storms, floods, snow storms, and deaths are caused. We just do not hear about them as the scale is much less, Baruch Ha Shem, then tsunamis and hurricanes.
Spiritually the biggest storm we Jews face is our own Yetzer ha ra. That does more damage to us as individuals and as a people than any storm has. Politically, our biggest storm has been the tsunami of bad press and anti Semitic loshan ha ra about us.
But, as far as climate goes, Israel and the Mid East, including what used to be called Mesopotamia, is continually hit with harsh winds, what we would call sand storms, and well as rain storms, that cause massive flooding. Dry stream beds, called wadis, becoming raging rivers, and can wash away villages in an hour.
A year ago, UPI reported that 70 people were injured by a tornado and ping-pong-ball-sized hail in Israel. An Israeli local paper [ha Eretz] also said  that waves reached over 3 m (nearly 10 feet) in height. A sandstorm also buried parts of the country in 20 cm (nearly 8 inches) of sand. Five people were killed by flooding in northern Israel  a day later.
A few years ago, the weather service in Israel reported, among other events:
On June 20 a thunderstorm in Sinai brushed the southern city of Eilat, and caused flash floods.
On May 2,  severe thunderstorms developed over much of central and southern Israel in the early morning. The storms were accompanied by  heavy rain. This was the first occasion of spring storms in Israel this season.
On March 14, a hailstorm developed over Jerusalem and dumped very heavy , large, hail for 25 minutes. It was not accompanied by thunder or lightning.
On February 14-15, a winter storm swept through Israel and brought heavy snow to the mountains of northern and central Israel. The snow fell for about 30 hours in northern Israel and accumulated up to 55 centimeters (22 inches). In central Israel the snow fell for about 20 hours and accumulated up to 25 centimeters (10 inches). 10 to 18 cm accumulated in Jerusalem.
On January 23-27, one of the wettest storm systems on record hit northern Israel, where up to 230 millimeters of rain fell. Central Israel missed the bulk of the rain, with 50 to 80 millimeters of rain. Every area in northern Israel totaled the entire monthly average in these 5 days, and some of these areas already passed the annual average precipitation, with two more months of winter and four months left in the rainy season.
On December 2, a combination of a Red Sea trough and a low pressure area in the eastern Mediterranean caused thunderstorms to develop almost everywhere in southern and central Israel. Flash floods occurred in Bnei-Brak near Tel-Aviv and also in the Negev Desert and Dead Sea area, where a school-bus was swept away by a flash flood and was rescued by military helicopters.
And without boring you further, with past weather reports,  there are flash flood warnings for every part of Israel, from the Galilee to the Negev, including the coast and Jerusalem, and storm warnings, of what we would call Hurricanes, but which they call Monsoons, as they start in India , which is Asia. These storms are called Monsoons there, move through the Horn of Africa, into Saudi, Jordan, Israel and Iraq.
According to Rabbi Ibn Pakuda,  of Spain circa 1050 CE, in his ''Duties of the Heart'', the best gift God gave us is our intelligence and our discernment. Now wisdom is granted by the love and awe of God. But God's mercy to us for storms of weather, be they stand storms, or hurricanes, comes to us in prevention.
Just as God gave us a mitzvah to cover wells, and put fences on our roofs, God is always giving us mitzvoth to protect life. God does not want us to leave a hole in the ground uncovered, so that some child can fall down a well, and in modern terms, have it repeated over and over, with TV crews camping out for days, while rescuers try to recover the unfortunate child. This is preventable by following a simple mitzvah. God doesn't want us falling off roofs, and dying or breaking limbs, This is preventable by following another simple mitzvah.
While there are no negative mitzvoth telling us not to live in a tornado alley, nor on barrier islands, nor next to a wadi,  nor on an earth quake fault, nor in a low land delta, God has given us discernment to understand enough of His universe to know we are placing ourselves in danger. In other words, God has given us "preventative mercy,'' by giving us intelligence and discernment.
Just as Rabbi Nakdimon took action during a draught during Passover to get the many pilgrims water, and then prayed to God to help him re-pay the Roman from whom he borrowed 12 wells of water , (Talmud Bavli Tractate Taanit 19b-20a), and just as Moses, faced at the sea of reeds, with Pharaoh's army chasing him, who was going to ask for a day of prayer and fasting, and God told him ''Now is not the time for prayer, but action,(Midrash)'', we humans need to take preemptive actions if we are to live in places where the forces of nature can cause us harm.
That gift of intelligence is God's mercy to us. In modern times He has given us the gift of early warning systems, and engineering tools, such as dikes for NOLA, to help survive forces of nature. Not everyone, for example, even if they all discerned, can get on a plane and leave Cuba for some in-land community of their former ally, Russia. Since God, to us as a human species, promised never to totally destroy us with a flood, was God saying to Noah, "But every once in a while,  I will send a mini flood, just to remind you to behave?''
Well, I do not think God causes disasters,  and I do believe that God shows us mercy, when they happen,  by installing in each of us, a yetzer ha tov, His divine spark, so that we all pitch in and help our neighbors, even if they are half way around the globe, to get back on their feet.
Every nation has some sort of bad weather or natural disasters.  They may not have Siberian blizzards in San Francisco,California, but the ground shakes and roads and buildings collapse.
While we do not see this too often in the USA, most of the poor of this world, live in shacks or huts. Any hard rain, just washes away whole communities, and they must rebuild. 
When we live in Sukkoth (huts) for a week, we are to learn, like those in favelas, and slums already know,  that we are 100% dependent on God. Our lives are in His hands totally. But our history shows we are stiffed neck and arrogant.  We behave as if we live forever. We are told by  our Rabbis to do teshuvah, one day before we die. We never know when a hurricane or a heart attack will visit us.
That is God's mercy to us, His chesed. He teaches us this lesson. But we must shema, listen, and like the Parasha reads  this Shabbat, we must Re'eh , see, also.
Our lives are not a dress rehearsal. If we die  with amends owed to others, we cannot make them from our grave or from Olam Ha Ba, or God forbid, Gehena.   The Talmud tells us that one who studies Torah and Talmud, but does not act on the mitzvoth, is wasting his time.
Pirkei Avot: 3:15. Rabbi Elazar of Modiim said: ''If a man ,,, offends the holidays and puts his fellow to shame publicly, ... even though he has a knowledge of the Torah and good works, he has no share in the world to come.''
So our yetzer ha ra can cause more damage than hurricanes or sand storms. 
Why do we worry about hurricanes, which are  in the universe's control, which is in this short life, but we are not concerned  about our eternal life, determined by our actions, which are in our control?
Thank God no one named an active Hurricane ''Israel'' or ''Jesus''. Headlines would not be wonderful reading: "Israel smashes Houston'', or Israel demolishes  Miami." Maybe some in the religious right wing, would like to read : ''Jesus wipes away Las Vegas.''
Why don't  we name hurricanes like the famous Texas octuplets?  They were all given God-based names.  The parents named the eight children: "God is great"; "God is beautiful"; "God thinks of me"; "God knows my way"; "God has my life"; "God is my strength"; "God is my leader"; and "God is merciful." 
Let us be kind to each other and be loving.  If we have hurt one another, let us make teshuvah. The gates of teshuvah, or repentance, of Jewish renewal, of Jewish Spiritual Renewal, are ALWAYS open.  Elul comes this Sunday, August 31st. It is time to prepare to get into the Book Of Chaim before Yom Kippur arrives this October 9th.
Rabbi Arthur Segal
Hilton Head Island, SC
Bluffton, SC
Jewish Spiritual Renewal
Jewish Renewal

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