When the past week’s storms made staying indoors a necessity, I spent time
gazing out at the huge quantities of water falling in turn as rain, snow, sleet
and hail, causing widespread damage to homes, possessions and sometimes people.
It brought home the intriguing reality of a number of everyday but nevertheless
awesome things central to our lives that carry a tremendous double potential for
both good and bad.
And what we naively tend to do, I reflected, is use
these things casually, taking for granted their potential for continuing good
while blithely ignoring their innate potential for the opposite.
watched the snow falling in lovely feathery flakes, seven of those ubiquitous
things occurred to me, six of them age-old – fire, water, love, sex, money and
religion – and the seventh a Johnny-come-lately: the Internet.
STRUCK me was the enormous power all these things possess, and how the fact of
their familiar presence in our lives often makes us dismissive of that
Think of turning on the water tap to wash our hands, fill the
kettle, take a shower. Could anything be tamer or more harmless than water? Then
recall the scenes of destruction wreaked by water untamed, water gone wild such
as Japan’s 2011 Tohoku tsunami, which killed 18,000 people; or major urban
flooding in Mumbai, New Orleans, Yangon (Rangoon) and Dresden – just a few of
the massive water-linked disasters that have caused havoc over the past
But why venture so far afield? Anyone following the news here in
Israel over the past week has been shocked by the near-total disruption of normal
life engendered by four days of recurring precipitation.
As of a few days
ago, some 13,000 people countrywide were going into their – unbelievable –
fourth day without electricity in temperatures that hovered around freezing as
the nights closed in. Countless homes have sustained serious water damage, our
newly renovated apartment included.
The financial toll has been estimated
at over NIS 300 million – and that’s just harm to agriculture.
walked around in light clothing as we celebrated Hanukka amid mild temperatures,
did we dream of what water would be wreaking just a couple of weeks later?
TOO, can swing with appalling swiftness from benign to deadly, sometimes in
minutes. As people use their electric appliances or turn on the gas for
cooking, admire the glow of burning candles or light their cigarettes, do their
minds leap ahead to picture how fire behaves when it gets out of hand? They
don’t; and maybe that’s nature’s protective device ensuring that we don’t become
paralyzed by every awful possibility.
Yet we ought to find a way of
putting that sobering picture – forgive the metaphor – on a back burner in our
minds. It would make us more aware of fire’s power.
Just a week ago,
major media outlets reported a deadly fire that ripped through a market in the
southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, killing 16 people and injuring
In December 2011, six board members of the upscale AMRI hospital in
Kolkata, India, were arrested after a fire in which 89 people died. The
privately owned hospital was accused of ignoring basic fire safety laws and
And who in Israel can forget the 2010 Carmel fire –
Israel’s worst civilian disaster – which raged for four days and nights, claimed
44 lives, forced the evacuation of nearly 17,000 people and consumed 8,650 acres
of land and natural forest? Israel’s Fire and Rescue Service was nationalized in
February 2012, but it still lacks 1,700 firefighters. Have we, as a nation,
forgotten the horrific results of the Carmel fire and other, lesser
conflagrations that are a regular feature of our hot, dry summers? Where are the
government-sponsored ads in the media urging able-bodied young men to join the
Fire and Rescue Service, offering attractive conditions?
potential for good and bad that is inherent in love, sex, religion and money –
and the Internet – are the stuff of books and movies, and these various
potentials are often interconnected.
About love, there is no more
powerful joy than when it springs from a genuine desire for the well-being of the
other, whether lover or child, and of oneself in healthy union with the other.
And there is scarcely a worse evil than the abuse that can masquerade as love,
but is really a desire for power over the other, or for financial
The world of sex is complex and variegated, but no one would deny
its power for good when it is the physical expression of positive and mutual
feeling; and for evil when it is traded as a commodity, with coercion and abuse,
as in the trafficking of women.
However, when young people barely out of
childhood use sex as a means to… perhaps they hardly know to what – that, too,
is an abuse of sex’s power whose ramifications are far-reaching.
the most important thing to say in this connection is that in our highly
commercialized, electronically connected and fast-paced world, love and sex are –
often deliberately – whipped up by interested parties such as the fashion
industry into a sticky and enticing concoction that can confuse the wisest of
us, let alone vulnerable and immature youngsters eager for connection and
What concerned parents have to do, therefore, is sort out their
own often unclear attitudes and boundaries regarding love/sex and make them part
of their children’s education. This education has, by default, been too often
left to the media and the Internet, with predictably awful results. Failure to
take on this vital task is a dereliction of parental duty, pure and
THE POWER of money for good and evil hardly needs to be stated;
it has always been part of the fabric of our lives, well before Bernard Madoff
destroyed many thousands of unsuspecting investors; and one of the ways money is
being used for evil in our current reality is via its support of murderous
regimes, groups and individuals.
Those regimes, groups and individuals
justify their actions by citing religious mandates for their murderous ways,
highlighting – as if it were needed – the tremendous power of
THE GREAT inner peace, spiritual support and moral guidance
that result from the positive power of religion are well known to the millions
who experience that power as a constant in their lives. In contrast, our world
today is being rocked by those who use religion as a justification for heinous
acts, from beheading the innocent to blowing them up.
surprises me, as an observant Jew, is how ready many people are to blame God for
those despicable acts – not realizing what I have been trying to highlight
throughout this column: that things which possess great power can be turned to
good or bad, and that the sheer power inherent in, for example, religion can
magnify that good or that bad.
Without religion, would the world be a
kinder, gentler place? Many would argue yes, citing the many religion-based
wars; but I doubt it.
Our natures are part animal, maybe part-savage, and
where would we be were those natures set loose from the bonds of what we call
Judeo-Christian morality? A further question: What has God to do with religious
perversion? It’s people who pervert religion.
I HAVE touched on the
Internet, and perhaps the jury is still out on whether the good of it outweighs
the bad. We can appreciate the power and scope of the Web’s extraordinary
networking and information abilities.
But again, as with every powerful
thing, the Internet needs to be approached with respect and restraint, whether
it is we using its amazing capabilities for ourselves, or we as parents keeping
a close eye on where our children are wandering online.
Elsewhere I have
compared concerned parenting with mud-wrestling: You have to get “down there in
the dirt” with your children, and it takes physical and emotional energy, and
time. But there’s really no choice.
REGARDING THOSE everyday things we
take for granted, but which are so very, very powerful – let our watchwords be
respect and restraint. They may help to keep us out of trouble.