Of Toppling Trees and Decrees

As I stood there in camp, on the last day of the summer season, witnessing the awesome and somewhat terrifying rain and windstorm that was Irene, I was struck by a thought. The harsh and unforgiving winds were pushing around the trees, first toying with them and then snapping them in two like tiny little twigs. At the time, it seemed like a slight inconvenience. We endured not one, but two blackouts. But soon I would learn that this storm was more.


Much more.


This summer, it seems that every time we think we have seen it all, that it can’t get any worse, another tragedy strikes. No, it is not tragic when one comes home to find their basement filled with water. It is upsetting and costly, but not tragic. It is not tragic when people need to be evacuated from their homes. It is scary and nerve-racking, but not tragic.


However, when very few deaths are reported as a result of a natural disaster such as Hurricane Irene and those fatalities are Torah-observant Jews, it is cause for serious introspection. One fellow, heroically, tried to save a little boy and gets electrocuted. An elderly woman dies when she drowns during an evacuation. These are unspeakable tragedies. And in a summer filled with tragedies, stemming from highly unusual incidents, we need to realize that Hashem is not merely talking to us. He is screaming at us! How can we not be listening?


The Chofetz Chaim once remarked that the reason why the hurricane season always falls around Elul and the Yomim Noraim is because the awesome energy and power of a hurricane is generated from ruach, wind. When the Al-mighty blew inside of Adam Harishon, the posuk tells us, “Vayipach be’apav nishmas chaim – He blew inside of him the soul of man.” Onkelos translates nishmas chaim as a “ruach dememalelah,” the spirit or ability to speak.


Speech stems from a wind of sorts. When one is short of breath, he is unable to speak. It is our lungs that generate the wind needed for speech. And when, more than the month of Elul, must our speech be measured?


Our prayers are comprised of wind. To the unimpressed and cold individual, such wind is nothing more than a breath and lonesome prayer. But for the learned and sensitive neshamah, this ruach can topple the harsh decrees that have shaken our people to the core.


Yes, the ability and ruach exist within our neshamos.


And on the other hand, our speech can be quite destructive and hurtful. A hurricane wind most often is a costly inconvenience, causing millions to lose their electricity. But sadly, as was the case this week, those very winds can take someone’s life. The same may be said for the lashon hara we utter about others. Perhaps, most often, it will do nothing more than inconvenience the victim about whom it is spoken. But there are times when this “harmful wind” can literally destroy someone’s life.


What a resounding and powerful lesson this is for us as we enter the month of Elul.


It is hurricane season. The wind is stirring.


We can uproot the gezeiros ra’os, the evil decrees, or we can destroy each other.


Which one will it be?


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To contact Rabbi Spero or to submit comments, email to chiely1@juno.com.