There have been international repercussions from the volcano in Iceland. An early description of the repercussions appeared in the following excerpts from a lead article in the Washington Post titled: “European air-travel crisis worsens with no end in sight” (Sunday, April 18, 2010):
LONDON -- An air-travel crisis caused by a spectacular volcanic cloud emanating from Iceland escalated sharply Saturday, with President Obama and other world leaders forced to cancel plans to attend the Polish president's funeral and millions of passengers from Washington to New Delhi left stranded by a bottleneck that could last for weeks. [As reported elsewhere, authorities are concerned that if an airplane moves through the ash cloud which contains high levels of silica, a glasslike dust, the engines could seize or stall.]
Across Europe, commercial flight bans were in force in 24 countries, with some closing airports through Monday. But as majestic Eyjafjallajokull volcano continued an eruption that began Wednesday, the reality was dawning that air access to much of the region could be cut off for far longer, with potentially severe consequences for aviation-related industries and businesses dependent on air freight, such as those dealing in perishable goods. The scope of the flight restrictions surpassed any seen since World War II.
On Wednesday, April 21, the Washington Post reported:
Now airports are beginning to open again in Britain and the Netherlands, but no one can be entirely sure what will happen next in Iceland. Eyjafjallajokull could incite an eruption of its larger neighbor, Katla, which hasn't erupted since 1918 and might be ready to rumble. In all three historically recorded eruptions of Eyjafjallajokull -- in 920, 1612 and 1821 -- Katla erupted soon thereafter.
"The eruption that's going on right now is small in comparison to what we expect Katla would be like," said Jay Miller, a volcanologist at Texas A&M University.
Our discussion on the relationship of the Icelandic volcano to Zion will begin with a review of a basic principle of Torah ecology.
As we mentioned in this series, the mitzvos of the Torah are based on the following Divine mandate:
“Hashem God took the human being and placed him in the Garden of Eden to serve it and to protect it.” (Genesis, Chapter 2:15)
The above Divine mandate serves as a reminder that the human being is the caretaker, and not the owner, of the earth. In previous letters, we discussed how various mitzvos of the Torah remind us that Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, is the Owner of the earth.
The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel is one of the leading Israeli environmental organizations, and a number of years ago, they sponsored an ad in Israeli newspapers with the following Divine statement which appears in the Torah:
“The land shall not be sold permanently, as the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me.” (Leviticus 25:23)
Their use of this verse from the Torah is an indication that some Israeli environmentalists are beginning to recognize that the ultimate solution to the environmental crisis facing Israel and the world is a spiritual one. They are beginning to understand that a major cause of the human being’s destruction of the environment is the view that the human being is the owner of the earth. They therefore cited a verse which reminds us that Hashem is the Owner of the earth.
There are other verses from our Sacred Scriptures which remind us of this elevating truth. For example, Hashem proclaimed at Mount Sinai: “All the earth is Mine!” (Exodus 19:5).
During the 19th century, the technological progress of humankind caused many people to develop absolute faith in human reason, power, and wealth; moreover, the human being began to be viewed as the owner of the earth. I will therefore discuss with you an ancient prophecy which reveals that this arrogant attitude must be eliminated before the birth of the messianic age, when Zion will serve as the spiritual center for all humankind:
The Prophet Isaiah envisioned the birth of the messianic era of universal enlightenment and shalom when peoples will say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of Hashem, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths” (Isaiah 2:3).”
In this new age, “Torah will go forth from Zion” (ibid), and, “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and they will no longer study warfare” (2:4). Isaiah also reveals the following prophecy which describes what will take place before the birth of this new age of universal enlightenment and shalom:
“Humankind’s haughtiness will be humbled, and men’s arrogance will be brought down, and Hashem alone will be exalted on that day. And the false gods will vanish completely…on that day man will throw away his false gods of gold and his false gods of silver” (2:17, 18, 20).
I was born after World War Two, and I grew up in an era when life on the earth seemed more peaceful and secure; moreover, the economy seemed to be stable, and there was faith that western capitalism would grow stronger and increase its influence in the world. Within the last decade, especially after 9/11, life on the earth seems less peaceful and less secure; moreover, there is serious concern about the current state of the world economy. This growing sense of insecurity is strengthened by the “natural” disasters of our era, such as strong earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes, as these disasters pose a threat to our physical and economic well-being. Are all these disasters just random events, or do they have a deeper significance? Are they perhaps the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy which states, “Humankind’s haughtiness will be humbled, and men’s arrogance will be brought down, and Hashem alone will be exalted on that day”?
After the earthquake in Southern California a few weeks ago, I received the following message from Hazon participant, Joy Krauthammer, who lives in Los Angeles:
“God is shaking up the world.”
And after the eruption of the Volcano in Iceland, I received the following message from Hazon participant, Ahuvah Gray, who lives in Jerusalem:
“God is trying to get everyone’s attention.”
Our spiritual tradition teaches that we, the people of the Torah, should not view disasters and other calamities as mere random events, for they have a deeper significance. For example, there is a special mitzvah that serves as a wake-up call to engage in teshuvah – a process of spiritual return and renewal – during all periods of danger and troubles. This is the mitzvah for the Kohanim, during the Temple period, to blow trumpets during a period of war or any other calamity, and a source for this mitzvah is found in the following verse:
“When you go to wage war in your land against the oppressor that oppresses you, you should sound short blasts of the trumpets, and you shall be remembered before Hashem, your God, and you will be saved from your enemies.” (Numbers 10:9)
Maimonides explains in the following passage that the war mentioned in the above verse is an example of any calamity, and the verse is therefore conveying the following message:
“Whenever you are beset by any calamity such as drought, pestilence, locust, etc., you are to offer up supplications concerning it and sound the trumpets. And this conduct is one of the ways of teshuvah, for when calamity befalls the people, and they offer up supplications concerning it – sounding also the trumpets – all are bound to realize that it is owing to their bad ways that misfortune has befallen them, as it is written, ‘Your iniquities have withheld these (blessings) from you; your errors have lost you the good’ (Jeremiah 5:25). And it is this conduct which will cause them to remove the calamity from them. However, if they neither offer up such supplications nor sound the trumpets, declaring that what has befallen them is but a natural event or that this misfortune is the result of chance and accident, then their course is one of cruelty, and it causes them to persist in their bad ways. Thus their misfortune is bound to be followed by many others.” (Mishneh Torah – The Laws of the Fast Days 1:1-3)
On a deeper level, the serious disasters of our own pre-messianic period can be viewed as “trumpets” which are serving as a wake-up call for us, the people of the Torah. The reason this wake-up call is directed at us is because we were given a special mission to serve as an inspiring model of the Divine teachings and thereby lead all the nations into the messianic age of universal enlightenment and shalom when all strife and suffering will be eliminated. In this spirit, the Prophet Isaiah conveyed to us the following Divine promise regarding our future role in Zion: “Nations will go by your light” (Isaiah 60:3).
We, the people of the Torah, therefore have a special responsibility to hear the message of the current “trumpets” of teshuvah. This message can inspire us to get closer to Hashem and to each other through a deeper understanding of the Torah and through a stronger commitment to the Torah’s path of mitzvos. Each of us can engage in this life-giving process on a step-by-step basis. We will then be able to hear the trumpets of redemption which will proclaim the arrival of the messianic age. The message of these trumpets of redemption is expressed in the following passage which we chant during the service which welcomes the arrival of the Shabbos Queen:
“With trumpets and the sound of the shofar, call out before the Sovereign, Hashem. The sea and its fullness will roar; the inhabited land and those who dwell therein; rivers will clap hands, mountains will exult together before Hashem, for He will have arrived to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness and peoples with fairness.” (Psalm 98:6-9)
Have a Good and Strengthening Shabbos!
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. After the Prophet Isaiah presented the universal vision of the peoples of the earth coming to Zion to study the Divine teachings and thereby bring an end to all warfare, Isaiah turned to our people and proclaimed the following message:
“O House of Jacob: Come let us go by the light of Hashem!” (2:5)
Through these words, the Prophet Isaiah is revealing that the responsibility of achieving this universal goal begins with us! If we desire to experience the era when all the peoples will study the light-giving Divine teachings, then we ourselves must begin to serve as an example of these teachings. We must therefore go by the light of Hashem – the Torah and her path of mitzvos (commentary of Radak).
2. The Prophet Isaiah also conveyed to us the following Divine message:
“Pay attention to Me, my people; listen to Me, My nation; for Torah will come forth from Me and My judgment will be a light for peoples, to whom I shall give rest.” (Isaiah 51:4)