Friday, January 7, 2011

It's not that unusual

AP reports:
"It is not that unusual," said Kristen Schuler, a scientist at the US Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center. "There is nothing apocalyptic or anything that is necessarily out of the ordinary for what we would see in any given week." Indeed, the USGS keeps a log on its website with reports of groups of birds dying each week, averaging from dozens to thousands.
It may be normal for large groups of birds to die from time to time. It may also be normal for large groups of fish to die from time to time. But the timing of several incidents of mass bird deaths, along with several incidents of mass fish deaths, within days, across the globe is startling. Moreover, while mass wildlife kill is a known phenomenon, birds falling dead from the sky with no disease and no external harm is equally bizarre.

I wonder if in Egypt, each of the ten plagues were explained away by experts. I wonder at what point people started to wake up.

We are now approaching the Jewish holiday Tu Bishvat, and after that, Purim. In the Purim story, the Persian king's minister orders a death sentence for the entire Jewish people, as a result of a Jew's refusal to bow down to the minister, and only to God. Luckily, the king's queen is secretly Jewish, and through her exquisite beauty, wit and charm she convinces the king to reverse the tables, honor the Jew, and hang the minister. Purim is a celebration of the reversal of bad fate, and the ability of things to turn from entirely doomsdayish to entirely sweetened (b"H).

In the scroll recounting the story of Purim, God is entirely absent from the written text. In other words, anyone reading the story could argue that the miracle of saving the Jewish people was entirely due to Esther's beauty, wit, and charm; her uncle's wisdom to plant her as a spy in the palace in the first place; the king's love for Esther; Haman's lack of charisma; grim prospects for the upcoming election year; global warming; etc., etc. Indeed, all of these reasons were indeed the means by which the people were saved...but who was orchestrating the show? The point is, since supernatural miracle Chanukah (200 CE), it's all interpretation. It's all up to us. The test of the generation of Mashiach is emunah, best translated as steadfastedness. We have to find God within the Purim story; we have to find God inside the headlines, inside the wonders of creation, inside Egypt.

Take the Ten Plagues, which we read about during this week's Torah portion, Bo (Exodus 10:1–13:16). First, the nile turns red from blood (on that note, Houston's ship channel just get clogged with beef fat). Blood-filled nile is a little weird, but could be explained by various natural factors. Next, frogs are everywhere. Big ones. Again, weird, but nothing supernatural. Then, lice. If you've ever played with kids in Israel, you know how hard this one is to get rid of. At this point, you start to wonder: wait, first bloody nile, then frogs, now lice. Could there be a connection between the three? They seem unrelated, and each can be explained on its own by natural forces, and there have been somewhat similar instances in the past of each isolated incidents in the past, so, the Jews remain in captivity, and business as usual resumes...

We all know the end of the story. Pharoah connects the dots and begs the Jews to leave. God splits the sea and demonstrates his power over . Let's not wait for miracles, let's find Hashem in the times! Bo el Paro...come to Pharoah, because, you'll find out, that I was there all along ! ! !

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