An Alarm in Iyar?

(This is an expanded version of an article that appeared in the May 4 edition of The Jewish Press.)

In Judaism, the world is intentional and nature has ethical significance.

Last month Israel saw hail storms and floods that claimed the lives of several children. More hail and thunder descended this week.

“Rain in Israel is a blessing,” U.S. Ambassador David Friedman responded to the children’s deaths. “But this week that blessing took a tragic turn.”

While Ambassador Friedman’s sentiments come from a place of fraternal compassion, his claim is not entirely accurate. The punitive Biblical character of flood and hail is well known — see for example Chaggai 2:17 — and their occurrence during the month of Iyar contains further troubling implications. As Rabbi Gil Student has noted about rain per se:

“Traditionally, the demarcation between good rain and bad rain is the month of Iyar. The Mishnah (Ta’anis 12b) states that rain that falls after Nissan is a sign of curse. Current practice stops the prayer for rain on Pesach, although one opinion is that it should continue until the end of the month of Nissan. But all agree that in Iyar we do not pray for rain.”

The latest phenomena obviously do not suggest reward. Why would curse fall upon Am Yisrael?

Only the Almighty knows the answer to this question, but Chazal teach us to examine our deeds when tragedy strikes. Since last month’s tragedy was national, reflecting upon the state of Israeli society is in order.

Protection of innocent life and sexual morality are cornerstones of a righteous nation, and Israel especially. Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik observes on Vayikra 26:34:

“When one thinks of sins that would cause expulsion from the land, forbidden relationships, idolatry and murder immediately come to mind…Eretz Yisrael is an individuality. Unlike other lands, Eretz Yisrael can be defiled by impurity, just like man.”

Commenting on Vayikra 5:31 and Bereshit 1:11–13, Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch similarly notes that “Sexual morality is the root of all spiritual and moral welfare” and how “sexual lawlessness destroys individuals and nations, whereas observance of the restrictions on sexual life is fundamental for the ennoblement of the human species.” He again emphasizes on Vayikra 18:30:

“Sexual licentiousness was not considered by the Canaanites a toeva; what is more, it became sanctioned by custom and religious cult — and the toevot became chukot. As Yeshayahu says about a different age characterized by a similar general corruption: ‘They have perverted the law’ (Yeshayahu 24:5); they changed the law into its opposite, and immorality became law for them.”

Being what Rav Hirsch calls “the bearer of the Most Holy,” Israel has a duty to model righteousness to the world. Rav Soloveitchik writes in this vein:

“Our task was and still is to teach the Torah to mankind, to influence the non-Jewish world, to redeem it from an orgiastic way of living, from cruelty and insensitivity, to arouse in mankind a sense of justice and fairness. In a word, we are to teach the world the seven mitzvot that are binding on every human being.”

Now consider the following headlines in recent years:

The measure of a Jewish state is not how many startups it has or how many judo medals it wins. A Jewish state is to practice holiness domestically and thereby uplift the world toward recognition of HaKadosh Baruch Hu. As Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook writes in relation to Shemot 19:6:

“A kingdom of priests ministers to the other nations in order to morally perfect them. So the separation from the nations is itself the greatest unification, in order to benefit the human race. However, if Israel will desert the good, which is the holy Torah, then its nationhood and its territorialism are an abomination before God…Therefore, several times over, the Torah links the giving of the land to the observance of Torah.”

In 2018, the “Jewish State” subsidizes grave sinfulness and encourages likewise internationally. It desecrates Eretz Yisrael and beclouds the nations. The mayor of Tel Aviv remarked last year how the city is known “across the globe” because its pride parade, and political scientist Rebecca Steinfeld notes that “Israel has one of the highest late-term abortion rates globally.”

Does Am Yisrael think there are no consequences to this?

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein once referred to “periodic reminders sent from Heaven that remind man of his ultimate dependence, such as tsunamis or other natural disasters.” Compared with floods and hail during Iyar, it appears that an alarm has sounded upon the Land. Will we heed it?

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Myles Kantor

Occasional writer, fan of racquet and barbell sports, dabbler of languages