What a Way to Start Elul!

It has been an event-filled partial week since Elul has begun – Elul is the month of Jews’ personal reflection upon one’s spiritual life before the High Holidays. Ideally, there are 40 days of self-evaluation between the first of Elul and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. While this is a time for us to “mend our ways” and “turn away from old practices” that separate us from G-d, this year, I can’t help but think that the Almighty is trying to tell humanity something huge.


Not to sound “high and mighty” or “holier than thou”, but I think He’s trying to get our entire societies to re-examine our practices and follow in His ways in loving devotion to Him. And He expects People of the Book to “lead the charge”, or as we hear all the time – to “bear the light in a darkened world”. The Lord seems to effect change in any society by starting with His followers first. In the Book of Second Chronicles in the Tanakh, the Lord’s spoke in a dream to King Solomon these words on the eve before the dedication of the First Temple:


If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land”.


So why this hypothesis that He’s trying to get our attention? The following things have happened since Elul started:


* The Great American Total Solar Eclipse occurred coast to coast across the USA from Oregon to South Carolina. Some consider this a sign to the Gentiles that judgment or serious, major changes are coming.


* A “massive volcano” in Mexico, Popocatepetl Mountain, started erupting during the eclipse even though Mexico experienced only a partial eclipse. (Note: the quotation is from the BBC and it is their choice of superlative used, not mine.) The website “Volcano Discovery”, subheading “Volcanoes Today”, at www.volcanodiscovery.com lists 7 other actively erupting volcanoes.


* Closer to my home, Hurricane Harvey, a category 4 hurricane, made landfall in Rockport, Texas, east of Corpus Christi, packing winds of 156 miles per hour in the eye's wall cloud and producing 13 foot storm surges. 230,000 people are still without power.  Two people are dead, more casualties are feared.

Massive amounts of rain (measured in feet, not inches) are expected over 4 to 5 days total as the hurricane stalls off the Texas Gulf Coast. Apparently, the Jet Stream over the US has changed in recent days (maybe from the eclipse?), and there are only “light steering wind currents” in the upper atmosphere which are gently nudging the hurricane back toward the sea.  While it is now downgraded to a Tropical Storm, if it hovers over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, it can strengthen to the point where it becomes a stronger storm (and possibly be re-classified as a hurricane again).  If the eye re-organizes and re-forms, then it is expected to make land again near Houston which already has flooded (and had tornadoes) from the outer bands of clouds of the tropical storm.

A lot of Southern and Eastern Texas has had issues with flooding since the spring, and some places can’t take the amount of rain forecasted -- the soil is already saturated.   Add to that a low pressure system traveling east in West Texas and New Mexico approximately one to two days ago that had been producing thunderstorms with hail and “tropical funnel clouds”.  (The National Weather Service says, “these funnels rarely touch down” and the funnels stay up in the clouds.)  This extra moisture can be caught up in what's left of Harvey the storm, thus feeding and strengthening it, but not to the extent that would happen if the storm moves back over the Gulf and reorganizes.  

To be honest, weather forecasters have no clear idea of what will happen next with Tropical Storm Harvey. We can only wait and see.

Flood warnings from this eastern-moving low pressure system in West Texas extended into Southwestern Oklahoma on Friday. Southwest Oklahoma rarely floods because it gets the least amount of rainfall of any other locale in Oklahoma.

We haven’t even begun to discuss the problems that the low-lying states east of Texas are going to be experiencing. Particularly, in the city of New Orleans, Louisiana with its bowl-like topography that acted just like a bathtub holding water during Hurricane Katrina.  Over time, the city has subsided to -5 to -7 feet below sea level and is always at high risk of flooding from heavy rains.  Tornadoes are also a threat to these states because the Northeast quadrant of any Atlantic hurricane has the most potential energy stored in the bands of storm clouds; these quadrants tend to spawn the most tornadoes. 


* 33,000 acres of forest in Montana, USA, are burning out of control. For that matter, the entire American West is dotted with uncontrolled fires, especially in the West Coast states. There has been a major drought in the states of the Northwestern US.


* Macau and southern China were hit by a strong typhoon (Hata) which killed 16 people. 27,000 people had to be evacuated due to flooding. There has been extensive damage to farm lands. 150 people were injured at last report.


* President Trump declared war on Afghanistan and “South Asia”. North Korea’s leader, Kim Jeong Un, responded by launching another three Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson bragged about what restraints North Korea was exhibiting).


* Japan says to the US, “Add more sanctions to the North Koreans”. Russia says to the US, “Don’t add more sanctions to the North Koreans”. It’s like watching a ping-pong match and getting whiplash!


* The USS John S. McCain was in a major accident east of the Straights of Malacca near Singapore with a civilian merchant oil tanker. 2 sailors were killed and 8 others are still missing despite a lengthy multi-national military search force over days. 4 others were injured to the point of requiring hospital care and they have been evacuated to Naval Hospitals.

Of all the ships in the US fleet, it had to be the vessel named for family members (who served as Admirals, both the father and grandfather) of Arizona Senator John McCain, who is battling an aggressive brain tumor. Ironically, Senator McCain started chemotherapy and radiation this week.

 * Another significant train accident occurred in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania where a commuter passenger train collided with a stationary railroad box car. 30 people were injured.

*  Jerry Lewis died, leaving a void where an immense chunk of "fun and talent" has been sucked out of this world.  Not to mention taking with it a gigantic lump of compassion for people with unusual, degenerative diseases which the world might not ever see again.

 * A huge mudslide near the village of Bondo in southern Switzerland occurred that has caused 8 people to be missing.

 * Jared Kushner was "overlooked" in Cairo, Egypt, when he was scheduled to meet with President al-Sisi to re-open and facilitate peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The meeting was reportedly canceled because President Trump wants to cut US financial aid by $3 million (about 15% of the total aid package given to Egypt for their military.)


* The UN warns that the USA may be headed for a racially-based civil war. Emotions are still negatively charged after the Charlottesville, Virginia protest/counter-protest where one young woman, Heather Heyer, was murdered by intentional vehicular assault.  American citizens are now obsessed about who is a neo-Nazi and who isn’t.


* There have been the usual collection of discernible earthquakes throughout the week. In the past 24 hours throughout the world, there have been 11 quakes over 4.0 alone. The most severe quake in the past 24 hours was 5.5 South of Java, Indonesia.  (Right after this blog was posted for publication, a 6.6 earthquake occurred north of Papua, New Guinea.)

There have been very shallow earthquakes (less than 1 km deep) in West Yellowstone, Montana, under the geyser basins, most notably the one containing the “Old Faithful” geyser.  Some Geologists believe that these can be ignored, stating that if the Yellowstone super volcano erupts, it is more likely to utilize a vent farther north at the bottom of Lake Yellowstone.  So, we should worry only about shallow quakes at this northern location under the lake instead!  (I'm not reassured yet.)


* Women of the Wall’s usual monthly Rosh Chodesh service continued at the Western Wall, leading to degrading, personal body searches where authorities were looking for parchments from Torah scrolls. This led to turmoil in the different sects of Judaism throughout the world over the role of the Kotel as a site for prayer for all Jews and for all peaceful people seeking to pray to HaShem.


That’s enough for the “Meaningful Event List” for now.   Are we motivated yet to spread the word that repentance and renewal are needed in our communities during this reflective time?   If not now, then when?