One pensive week after Harvey’s destructive floodwaters deluged Houston, as Hurricane Irma grew into a colossal Category 5 hurricane, the National Hurricane Center declared her “potentially catastrophic.” On its way to Florida, the storm tore through St. Martin, St. Barts, and Barbuda, leaving the majority of the 81,600 inhabitants homeless and causing incapacitating shortages of essentials. Prime Minister Gaston Browne announced that Barbuda, home to about 1,600 people “is literally rubble. What I saw was heart-wrenching — I mean, absolutely devastating.”
In the aftermath of Harvey, Irma, and the Mexican earthquake, millions are without electricity, thousands are homeless with overall astronomical figures of damage. We are grateful to Hashem for the chesed of toning down what could have been even more overwhelming disasters. Yet, with Jose in the wings and other hurricanes to follow, what is potentially even more threatening and destabilizing is Kim. What will the future bring?
The Washington Post almost got it right. As Hurricane Irma bore down on Barbuda’s sister island Antiqua, the Post’s headline captured the sincere, fearful words of the staff of that island’s airport as they turned away passengers, “May G-d protect us all!” Within a day, although Antiqua was miraculously spared (forty miles from Barbuda), the Post’s headline to that article was changed to the regular hurricane banter.
The Jewish calendar begins with what is intended to be a riveting experience for every Jew – Rosh HaShanah. Clearly, current events have prepared us to have a deeper sensitivity for the first beracha of the Yomim Noraim Shemoneh Esrey, “And so too, L-rd, our G-d, instill Your awe upon all Your works and Your dread upon all that You have created.” Rosh Hashanah is a time of keen personal introspection when we are faced with fundamental questions about our existence – Why am I in this world? What is my purpose? For what am I accountable? On this day we affirm a core belief of the Jewish people, namely that God, Who created and guides the universe, is our King.
There are a number of approaches to this question, and everyone needs to find the one that best speaks to him. The following explanation resonates with me.
There is a scene in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, “Breakfast of Champions,” that brings home the meaning of God as King. The main character, Kilgore Trout, is having a drink in a bar, minding his own business. Suddenly he senses an awesome presence about to enter the bar. He breaks out into a cold sweat. Who walks in?
Kurt Vonnegut. When the author of the book steps into the novel to visit his character, Kilgore’s perception of his world turns upside down. He realizes that he does not exist independently. Rather, every moment of his life requires a new stroke of the author’s pen. Without the author, he ceases to exist. He also realizes that his universe exists only in the mind of the author, and that beyond his ephemeral world there is a higher dimension – the realm of Kurt Vonnegut – that is more real than his own. He also discovers that literally everything in his universe is an expression of Kurt Vonnegut. Because in Kilgore’s world, the author is the only being that has true existence …
Our finite world is also a work of Creation. Everything in it is an expression of G-d’s Oneness. Without a new act of Creation every instant, nothing could exist.”
Like Kilgore, on Rosh Hashanah we come face to face with our “Author.” The recognition that God is the Creator and King of the universe has profound significance for the way we relate to life, meaning, and our purpose in this world.
After Prime Minister Gaston Browne saw from his Antigua base that the island had been spared, but because of the loss of communication was unaware that the sister-island Barbuda had been pummeled, he wrote in his Facebook page that his country had much to be thankful for:
“Thank G-d for his mercies and blessings. He has protected and spared us from the worst of Irma. Thank G-d that there are no fatalities nor, hurricane casualties reported up to this time.”
May the world respond to these uncanny series of events with the clarity from the Aleinu prayer (Zechariah 14:9), “G-d will be King over the entire world – on that day G-d will be One and His Name will be One.
NLEResources.com stands ready to assist rabbis and educators with free prayer companions, NLE Morasha Syllabus shiurim, and discussion guides for the expected overflow crowds this coming Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
NLE PRAYER COMPANIONS