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."


  1. Rav Shteinman Shlit"a agrees with a similar message that was suggested to him, although said a bit differently. He asks a question on this, however.

  2. Devash,

    This is a great example of what I am writing about now: Appreciation of what comes to us, in the sense of identifying what it is, its value and what it means to us - in this case, even the weather can have more than meets the eye. ;)

    When it gets posted, look for a link to this post!

    1. The most glaring aspect of this storm is the fact that there was no distinction made between the enemies' air and the air of Israel - both were equally afflicted. This is very telling as to how Hashem is judging us.

  3. Dvash,
    One of the women here in our yishuv pointed out at the Rabbi's shiur tonight that the parsha last week, Ki Tavo, speaks of dust like this in chapter 28, verse 24.
    "HaShem will make the rain of your Land dust and dirt; from the heaven it will descend upon you until you are destroyed." Also the dust storm started on the 24th of Elul and it was the 24th passuk of the chapter. Very amazing but scary as it hits home so clearly!

    May Hashem's mercy never fail us.

  4. Perhaps this is Hashem's way of hampering any devious plans our enemies may have to mar the High Holy Days...Diaspora Ro.

  5. Just saw this from an investment service:

    "The world just saw another powerful example of massive debts gone bad.
    One look at China's collapsing stock market... the massive amounts of borrowed money getting plowed into vaporware investments... the rampant speculation on still-vacant houses and apartment buildings... it all sounds too familiar, doesn't it?
    But here's the thing: Our own country's problems are NOT solved, either.
    In fact, what you're seeing in China isn't just déjà vu... it may also be FORESHADOWING.

    Our research points to another bubble set to burst
    wide open here in the United States
    on September 16th, 2015.
    It will be a day when millions will be reduced to poverty... spelling an end to our way of life... even threatening the very fabric of our nation.

    Then they go on with some investment tips.

  6. Not sure if it is significant, but...

    Monday, 23 Ellul was the anniversary of 9/11.

    Wednesday, 25 Ellul according to tradition is the anniversary of the creation of the world.


  7. דברים פרק כח

    כד יִתֵּן יְהוָה אֶת-מְטַר אַרְצְךָ, אָבָק וְעָפָר: מִן-הַשָּׁמַיִם יֵרֵד עָלֶיךָ, עַד הִשָּׁמְדָךְ

  8. Vayikra - Leviticus - Chapter 26: 19

    I will break the pride of your strength and make your skies like iron and your land like copper.

    יט וְשָׁבַרְתִּי אֶת גְּאוֹן עֻזְּכֶם וְנָתַתִּי אֶת שְׁמֵיכֶם כַּבַּרְזֶל וְאֶת אַרְצְכֶם כַּנְּחֻשָׁה

    Gaon Uzchem according to sod:


  9. Because this is a supernatural occurrence, it is probably going to be the turning point - from hereon things will no longer be according to their *normal* sequence. From now to Rosh Hashana - this year or next. Expect turmoil, chaos and miracles.

  10. This is the strangest happening especially at this time of year. Because of the particles, I am confined to my home. So IY"H I am managing to cook in preparation for Shabbat and B"H Rosh Hashana. Imagine all those others who are homebound. Does make you kinda focus on the times we are living through :-) However, I see this as a good siman right before we Crown HaShem our King. I just love all the simanim. Someone wrote about the Giant Russian Nuclear vessel enter the Dardanelles, as Debka wrote.

  11. Simply brilliant, brilliantly simple!

  12. From Aliza Israel on Facebook - For all of us choking in this unbearable orange sandstorm, here's a gem from our local geologist: Apparently, the storm is bringing in much-needed nutrients from the desert, enriching the soil of Eretz Yisrael...just in time for the end of Shmitta and the new year...
    Hilltop Dweller

    1. lol - that's one positive spin, but if that is the case then the air contains ash. Does it?

  13. HaShem does everything for the best and that is what I am holding on to... I wish everybody a Shana Tova may it be sweet and HaShem to have mercy on us...

  14. Another good sign from this Shabbat Haftarah:
    ישעיה ס"מ פסוק ה
    וחמתי היא סמכתני . חמתי שיש לי על האומות אשר אני קצפתי מעט על עמי והמה עזרו לרעה היא סמכתני חיזקה ידי ועוררה את לבי ליפרע מהם ואע''פ שאין ישראל ראוין והגונים לגאולה :
    If somebody could translate in good English.
    Even if we don't deserve the Geula Hashem will take his revenge on the enemies of Israel! Rashi clearly says it! Bessorot tovot vé Shana geula berahamim!
    Itzhak. Yerushalaim.

  15. Correction:
    ישעיה פרק ס"ג פסוק ה
    Rashi on Haftarah parashat Nitzavim.

  16. This comment isn't from a rabbi, it's from Meir M. over at Dov Bear's blog. I see that we're getting some positive interpretations on the sandstorm; here's another:

    "War all around us but we trust in H' and He promised us the Land of Israel. When all the dust will finally settle, the Land of Israel will be returned to the People of Israel. Just consider where the current conflicts in our area takes place and the future prophetic map of Israel becomes natural and logical. May it be in our days!"

    Link is his; emphasis mine. May it be as he has said.

  17. H' is all mericiful and I think HE is showing us that and that we need to see it. Someone commented here about the dessert bringing in nutrients to the soil in the Land of Israel. As was prophecied, H' will fight for us and undo our enemies and we will just watch. For all the hardships that the bnei Yisrael has gone through the millenia, we will be more than doubly blessed with all that is good, for H' is our Father in Heaven and loves us more than we can even understand. HE is cleansing the world and the waters of the seas will all be sweet one day, hopefully, soon, and only goodness will fill the earth together with the Knowledge that there is only H' - Ein Od Milvado. Boruch

  18. You people are tzadickim. Such faith you have.

    I am not in your league; although I have my moments.

  19. Received this by email from a reader and thought it well worth passing on. There's no reason for the "message"' of the sandstorm to negate the "brachah" of the sandstorm. After all, what's a greater brachah than a call to teshuvah?

    From facebook poster Miriam Song...

    How Hashem is blessing us with this Sand Storm:

    This storm is coming from the East - Iraq and Syria - and moving West. If you look at a Google weather map you can see this huge cloud from space just hanging over the middle east. Its last stop is Israel before it moves into the Mediterranean.

    Normally dust in the air is very destructive to the crops. It picks up the top soil and the dust can smother the crops.

    However, what is being predicted is that there is a stronger East wind that is supposed to come in any day now and push back this West moving wind and then stop - right over Israel - which will cause the dust to settle here. When this happens - the settling of the dust - it is actually good for the soil and thus the crops, especially if there is rain that follows. Here is a quote from Wikipedia on the positive benefits of sand storms:

    "Dust can also have beneficial effects where it deposits: Central and South American rain forests get most of their mineral nutrients from the Sahara; iron-poor ocean regions get iron; and dust in Hawaii increases plantain growth. In northern China as well as the mid-western U.S., ancient dust storm deposits known as loess are highly fertile soils, but they are also a significant source of contemporary dust storms when soil-securing vegetation is disturbed."

    So - here we refer to our Torah: On this RH we will be ending our shmittah year. The Torah says that if we keep shmittah, Hashem will send us bumper crops before the shmittah year and after the shmittah year to "make up" for what we did not plant in the shmittah year. Based on this scientific phenomena that the settled dust will improve our crops, it seems that this dust storm, as troublesome as it is, is actually a bracha from Hashem to keep His word to bring us abundance in the new year.

    Who won't get it? Syria and Iraq. In their case, the stronger East wind will not push the dust back far enough East but they will have lost all their top soil in the meantime which will be settling on Eretz Yisrael "when the dust settles". They can expect to have poor agricultural quality and quantity in the next year.

  20. "Ushering in Rosh Hashanah on Sunday evening the temperatures are expected to fall, and on Monday during the first day of the holiday they are to drop even further and return to near normal degrees for the season. Local rain in the eastern part of Israel is anticipated on Monday afternoon, possibly indicating a cleaning of the dusty air.

    Dr. Levana Cordova-Bijoner, director of the national monitoring branch of the Environment Ministry, told Walla! that either strong eastern winds or rain would have cleared some of the dust out of the air,...."

    Maybe the message is that we are dirty now, but Hashem is going to clean us up like new for Rosh Hashana.

    - a voice in the wilderness

  21. Why doesn't the rav ask us to pray for rain now instead of at Sukkot for pikuach nefesh as many people have been hospitalized due to this terrible air pollution including infants and little kids who are sinless. Shouldn't we be showing HaShem that we are still His merciful flock?

    1. We pray for mercy and healing and let HaShem decide how it is to be executed.

    2. BH it is raining in Jerusalem, stormy in the Galil and torrential rains in the Negev. The sand and dust is no more. The terrible heat wave is over. What a good sign for the Fast of Gedalya. Blessed are you HaShem who is merciful and answers our prayers.

  22. I heard someone say that it might have been manufactured by those who are trying to control the weather. At first I thought "Naah", but then after reading this:

    “It is not clear what caused the exceptional sandstorms in Syria,” Porat said on Wednesday. “They did have some weather activity and strong winds, but not on a scale that can account for what happened. We are trying to find an explanation.”

    Since it was suppsoed to be over Syria right when Russia is arriving there, maybe the US was trying to stir up something, literally, and it got a bit out of hand?


    - a voice in the wilderness

  23. The Sun was obliterated, "Turned to Darkness", for at least three days this past week. In about two weeks time there will be a Blood Moon, however you want to interpret this coming lunar eclipse which will be seem around 4am on the First night of Sukkot in Israel. The next coming Great and Awesome Day of the L-rd after the Blood Moon is Hoshana Rabba 6 days later.

  24. According to Rebbe Me'ir in Sanhedrin 38, On Rosh HaShana 5775 years ago, HaShem gathered all the dust he needed from the four corners of the earth and made the first Man on the spot of the MIzbe'ach. So the dust returned for awhile even if it came via Syria.

  25. I thought maybe we all deserve the punishment of "chenek" - strangulation, choking - and that this sandstorm was a form of chenek so that Hashem doesn't "need" to carry out actual chenek (like He did with the tsunami or mudslides, etc).
    Therefore, I viewed the sandstorm as a huge chesed even though I couldn't go out for a couple of days as I was afraid of the effect it would have on my little one's lungs.

  26. Look at the previous week parasha, Ki Savo, 28:24. HaShem yishmor.