09 September 2015

The Message of the 'Rosh Hashanah' Sandstorm

26 Elul 5775

Yesterday, in Eretz Yisrael, we all woke up to a strange orange cast to the light in our rooms. I couldn't believe my eyes, when I pulled back the curtain and looked outside. Ooooo, nasty weather! A sandstorm had drifted in and settled over us. I hoped it wouldn't last more than 24 hours, but it was still here this morning.

The air doesn't move and it's dry and hot like an oven and stings a bit on exposed skin. I went into Jerusalem today for my last-minute holiday shopping and my heart just sank at the listless look of all the trees standing still and erect and covered in a gray coat of dirt. All the bus and train benches, every exposed surface in fact, was coated with grime and kids had drawn in the dirt on bus windows.

What does this mean, Hashem? I asked. I was so looking forward to the New Year with all its promise of a fresh new start and here in the midst of our preparations, we get this dusting of filth that is even dangerous to breathe. And there's really no hope for a nice, refreshing rain to wash it all clean again before the chagim. We'll go into the holiday, most likely, with this dirty face. Why?

And now, the news is telling us that "due to the lack of strong winds and the mass of sand in the air, the current haze and heatwave are set to accompany us into the weekend and up to Rosh HaShana."
Tuesday marked the heaviest haze during the month of September in the last 75 years, and the rest of the week is not going to be any better. The heavy haze was still present Wednesday morning, suffocating all of Israel, and according to the latest forecasts, we won't be seeing blue skies until Rosh HaShana early next week.
Due to the heavy presence of pollutants in the air, the Environmental Protection Ministry has called for the cancellation of all school trips, and outdoor activities.
...Over the last day, hundreds have received medical care for breathing problems. About 70 were treated at a hospital in Safed and three were said to be in serious condition.
In addition to the continued haziness, the current heat wave is set to continue. The meteorological service has issued a heat warning for all of Israel lasting from 9am to 9pm on Wednesday and most areas are expected to experience unusually high temperatures. Areas in the east and the valleys will experience severe heat throughout the day.
Visibility is expected to be especially low. As of now, buildings are only visible within one kilometer, compared to 8-10 kilometer visibility on a normal day. These figures apply for all of Israel.
...The thousands of tons of sand particles in the air above us fall slowly, and as such the haze will remain for some time, he explained. This in contrast to sand storms during periods of seasonal change, which are often quite short.
Due to the lack of strong winds, the haze will remain for some time, and will continue to fall slowly. This is an unprecedented event.
The source of the haze is also important – it arrived from Syria and Iraq, while sand storms usually arrive from Egypt, and more specifically the Sahara. As a result, the storm will end only when the heat wave subsides as a result of a north-western wind. The wind is forecasted to arrive sometime this weekend, but the higher than normal temperatures are set to remain.
I began to think about this event as a message. For the message to be understood, it needs to have some easily identifiable commonalities with the method of communication. I thought about the words being used to describe it - "pollution, filth, dirt"; and its effects - "sickens people to breathe it, difficult to see". The Hebrew word that comes to mind is zuhamahזֻהֲמָה ) which is translated as "filth, dirt, scum ; foulness" and its relative (זֹהַם) - "to be infected, to be contaminated, to be polluted".
Sin, Impurity, and Zuhama
This is the meaning of the verse, "It is your sins that separate you from your G-d" (Isaiah 59:2); Kelipa which results from sin clothes the soul and stands between it and G-d, preventing the flow of light. This idea is hinted at in the Talmud: "We learn that the snake came upon Eve and imparted zuhama [spiritual dirt] to her."1 (Avoda Zara 22b )
This was the case for Adam as well, and all his descendants after him until the days of Moshiach, since they [their souls] were included in Adam at the time of the sin. Thus all people die "because of the bite of the snake," since all were affected by the zuhama.
...However, all sins that people perform on their own, that is, other than the one that Adam committed, draws kelipa to them, depending upon the severity of the sin committed. However, a person’s teshuvah can push away the zuhama that came to him because of his sin, even in the case of very serious sins.
So, once again, we have a repetition of the overriding message of our days, appropriate to this season and communicated to us in a visible, tangible way that cannot be ignored.

This air pollution that has settled over literally everything across our entire land and is predicted to remain with us for the rest of the time until Rosh Hashanah as a constant wake-up call, perhaps the final call, to do teshuvah!! This filthy covering of dirt that mars everything it touches is a reflection of how our filthy souls look standing before Hashem before our teshuvah has washed us clean. 

Psalm 51:3-4 - "Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your kindness; according to Your great mercies, erase my transgressions: Wash me thoroughly of my iniquity, and purify me of my sin."