We are living in the days of being awestruck.
The Jewish people around the world began what we call the Days of Awe this past Wednesday with the celebration of Rosh Hashana. We end our High Holy Days with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Saturday evening.
It is during Yom Kippur that we reflect on the year just past — in this case there have been 5,778 such years — and pray for forgiveness of our sins and for inscription in the Book of Life for another year. It is, to be clear, the most solemn time in the life of the Jewish people.
Each year I try to reflect upon the year just ended and look forward to the opportunities that a new year provides. In the past, these reflections have almost always centered on prospects for peace in the Middle East, because I believe that is one of the keys to a more understanding and peaceful world.
This year should be no different. In fact, it seems that if ever the world were close to achieving a just, secure and lasting peace in that part of the world — and here I speak of peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors — it would be now. In large part, that is because allegiances and ideologies and political realities on the ground are making friends of former enemies and creating allies where alliances did not and could not exist.
I admit I am always an optimist — that allows for easy disappointments — so I see opportunities in the Middle East that, with some inspired leadership from the players and the United States, could result in that which has been elusive to date.
So, now let’s deal with the awe.
As I write this, there are reports of more and more powerful hurricanes making their way toward the United States and all the islands along the way. Islands that have already been laid waste by Hurricane Irma are now being threatened, yet again, by problems like Maria, which will continue the destruction that Irma inflicted. It seems like someone is mad at the world and letting us know he is not pleased!
And if that weren’t enough, Mexico has just been hit again by a major earthquake, leaving our neighbors to the south rocking and reeling from a destructive power that shows no favor as it knocks down buildings, destroys life and demands resources that are already strained. At least 30 million people are affected by this one, and who knows what comes next.
The Days of Awe in Judaism are designed to consider the powerful nature of a deity we cannot see but, yet, we are drawn to revere and respect. We pray for another year in the Book of Life while recognizing that we have been most unworthy of consideration.
It is also appropriate to be awestruck in the face of the power that is being unleashed by the forces of nature from which we can’t adequately defend ourselves. And yet we continue to live our lives — in the face of this dread and terror-filled destruction — as if man had nothing to do with or can do nothing to prevent or mitigate these terrible natural disasters.
One of the sins that plays heavily during our worship services is the lack of humility in the human condition. More specifically, man’s continuing refusal to accept what science says is true about global climate change is prima facie evidence for anyone powerful enough to express some shock and awe to illuminate the issue.
I am not trying to be obtuse in my description of an all-powerful prescription for a better understanding and adherence to the idea that man is partially responsible for these devastating natural events taking place, but that is the nature of faith. And this is a time when we look inward at our own shortcomings.
We can’t see it and we can’t feel it, but when hurricanes, earthquakes, uncontrollable fires and floods that wipe out cities keep occurring with greater frequency and power, well, what conclusions should we draw?
So, while we are praying for forgiveness — not just for Jews, but for all mankind — it wouldn’t hurt to add a bit more humility in the mix. Man does play a role in making life better and worse for our planet. We need not look far for examples. We are, unfortunately, witnessing them daily all around us.
Man can make peace in the Middle East and man can help mitigate — even in a small way — these natural disasters that keep coming our way.
We just need to exercise some goodwill and some good sense.
For people everywhere willing to exercise both — a very happy and healthy new year.
Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun.