It seems as if every region of our country, East, South, Midwest and West is subject to some form of natural disaster. Hurricanes, tornados, fires, flooding, earthquakes; one never can be sure when they might arrive to disrupt and devastate our ongoing lives.
Just this past weekend we learned of the massive tornados that destroyed entire communities in five Midwestern states, leaving behind a trail of wrecked life and property.
Having spent most of my life in the Midwest, I’m familiar with the sound of a tornado siren and the fear that it evokes. I’m also aware that tornado season generally occurs in the spring and summer months. What an awful surprise it must have been for Midwesterners to have to face these destructive winds. Add to this the awful irony that this all happened just at the beginning of the holiday season when families look forward to spending time together in celebration: a season of gladness turned into mourning.
Yet we can add this tragic event to the series of recent natural disasters that have plagued our country – even our planet – in recent years. The study of the cause of all these natural events has led us to the conclusion that their growing frequency is a result of human-induced climate change: basically a lack of respect on the part of human beings to recognize our need to serve as Nature’s stewards, and largely, a result of our continual growing dependence on fossil fuels. (From its Opinion Page, in an article headed “Postcards from a world on fire,” the New York Times refers to 193 stories that demonstrate the reality of climate change in every country throughout the world.)
My intention, however, isn’t to explore this vital issue: there are others far more knowledgable and articulate in this subject. What I do want to bring to light is a way in which our Tradition allows us to react in ways which express our attention and sincere concern with all those who are enduring events which are so deeply tragic. Beyond any acts of material support we may be capable of, there is the opportunity for us to gather as a community to express our thoughts and feelings, to take in such events from a point of view that looks at the vast human tragedy they represent. In sum: to reach out in prayer to the Ultimate Source of the Universe and our own world in crisis.
The Jewish calendar includes a number of fast days in which we refrain from the basic activity of eating. Given the fact that food is both vital to human existence and emotionally satisfying; refusing to take advantage of such a fundamental necessity becomes a way of expressing our solidarity with those whose lives have been cut short or otherwise significantly impacted by these tragic events. They are considered “minor fasts” because they start at daybreak and are completed at nightfall. In fact, it is permissible to eat on the morning of such a fast as long as it’s prior to daybreak.
One such fast is the “Fast of the Tenth of Tevet” which will fall this Tuesday, December 14th. It commemorates the beginning of the destruction of both of our ancient, sacred Temples (586 BCE and 70 CE) and the subsequent exile of the Jewish people, first to Babylonia and subsequently into the Roman empire.
In addition, we add certain prayers to our daily service, to express our sense of loss. These include the unusual practice of reciting a Haftarah during the Mincha (afternoon) service. Taken from the words of the prophet Isaiah, the reading begins with the words, “Seek the Lord where He may be found�” An ancient interpretation suggests that this refers to those fast days when there is a “concentration of the Divine Presence.”
I would like to call on anyone who is so moved, to join me in our Zoom Room https://us02web.zoom.us/j/862157330?pwd=c2V5dEp6YzA4ZERHL2p2REdFU29uQT09 this Tuesday morning at 8:00 a.m. or at 2:45 p.m. to join in expressing our grief at the events that are shaking our world. May our voices play their part in bringing consolation and healing to the world.
(Rabbi, Congregation Beth Ami)