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Wet and Dry

09/07/2023 05:26:50 PM


This week we read parashat Nitzavim, in which Moses gathers the entire nation to warn them of the potential consequences of their actions, positive and negative. One of his more colorful turns of his phrase is that people will think in their hearts “I will be safe following my heart’s urges”, but this will lead to something terrible. In Hebrew, the phrase is “Lema’an sfot haravah et hatzmeah” which could be read to mean, literally “the moist wiping away the thirsty.” This curious phrase has several possible interpretations, all of which have meaning for us in these times of high stakes.

On a simple level, it reflects something that gardeners know- different plants need different amounts of water. If you put plantings that flourish in dry soil next to plants that require damp conditions, no matter how much water you put in, you will end up with dead plantings. As we look at the weather surrounding us, we have seen both wet and dry, which should cancel out, combining to lead to greater destruction- a hurricane and a drought combined led to unimaginable destruction on the island of Maui. I’m not a “Burning Man” kind of rabbi, but apparently I have many friends who attend this gathering that takes place in a desert in the middle of nowhere.  Last year heat endangered the participants. This year flooding trapped many at the site for several days. Often a drought causes the ground to be hardened and unable to absorb rain, so there is flooding downstream even as the place where the rain fell does not experience the blessing of the water it has received. I am watching the weather closely to see whether Hurricane Lee will have a damaging impact as we enter Rosh Hashanah next week. I will admit I am praying for dry rather than wet, but for safety for our friends at the coast most of all.

Our sages interpret the passage metaphorically. A small bit of temptation can ultimately lead to a great thirst for inappropriate urges. Or perhaps, if each person does as they desire, without consideration for anyone else’s wellbeing, then ultimately all will suffer, both those who are full of good deeds, and those who are not. As we approach the high holidays, it is worth noting that our prayers for forgiveness and penitence are all in the plural “we have sinned,” “forgive us.” Our tradition recognizes that sometimes an entire community, or even the world, experiences the consequences of the actions of just a few, and therefore the entire community must come together to change its path and bring about repentance and forgiveness.

Fri, June 14 2024 8 Sivan 5784