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19 January 2018


By Roy S. Neuberger

Did we ever have a winter like this? Who can remember such cold? On Shabbos Parshas Shemos, wind chills in the New York Metropolitan Area reached minus twenty degrees!

Some perspective was provided by a very anavdik rebbe at Yeshiva Sh’or Yoshuv who insisted that I not mention his name. He informed me that wind chills at that moment in Yakutsk, Siberia were minus 47 degrees! Yakutsk is the “coldest major city in the world,” (Wikipedia) with three hours of daylight during January.

This would be comic relief if it were not for the fact that our brethren were sent to Yakutsk routinely during the Communist Era and forced to do hard labor wearing rags! It is impossible to understand how anyone survived. The cold we are experiencing allows us some inkling, however slight, of what they experienced. Most of us, thanks to the chessed of the Ribono shel Olam, enjoy the comfort of warm clothing. They had cruel enemies who gloated at their suffering!

“Hanosain sheleg k’tzamer … [Hashem] gives snow like fleece. He scatters frost like ashes. He hurls His ice like crumbs. Who can stand before His cold?” (Tehillim 147)

What is “nature?”

“When one goes to an art exhibition, how does one gauge which artist is superior? One way is to see which painting looks the most real, the most alive. The Baal Shem Tov explains: ‘There is no artist like Hashem,’ in that He made such a beautiful world filled with so much detail that it actually looks real. (See Berachos 10a) The problem is that we take everything at face value, thinking that what our eyes behold is what truly is. We forget that it is only a picture; there is something beyond what our eyes see.” (Meaningful Messages, by Rabbi Dovid Vatch, Parshas Bo)

My father, of blessed memory, was niftar seven years ago, just before another such blizzard. The winds then blew at sixty miles per hour and the snow was blinding. It took us four days to reach the cemetery. Only through the efforts of our dear friend, Reb Tsemach Glenn, were we able to obtain four-wheel-drive vehicles and gather a minyan for the kvura. This year’s blizzard occurred on the day of my father’s yahrzeit. He was a legendary figure. It seemed to me that Shomayim was telling us his passing was an event of great magnitude.

Nature provides signs which help us illuminate our path through this world. “The heavens declare the glory of G-d, and the expanse of the sky tells of His handiwork.” (Tehillim 19) We daven for rain at this season. “It will come to pass that, if you continually hearken to My commandments …. then I will provide rain for your land in its proper time….” But if we are so foolish as to refuse to listen, “then the wrath of Hashem will blaze against [us]. He will restrain the heavens so there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its produce….” (Shema)

“Af-Bri is designated as the name of the angel of rain, to thicken and to form clouds, to empty them and to cause rain. Water with which to crown the valley’s vegetation. May it not be withheld because of our unredeemed debt….” Rashi tells us that the name Af-Bri is composed of two words, “af/anger,” and “bri/health.” Rain can fall in anger or as a bracha. It all depends upon our merits. (Artscroll Siddur on Tefillas Geshem)

We are now immersed in the parshios of Yetzias Mitzraim. This week we read about the last three makkos: arbe/locusts, choshech/darkness and bechoros/death of the firstborn. As Hashem says to Moshe Rabbeinu, “My signs … I placed among them, that you may know that I am Hashem.” My friends, has anything changed since Mitzraim?

The challenges are the same. According to Rashi (Shemos 13:18 & 10:22), only one-fifth of Am Yisroel left Mitzraim with Moshe Rabbeinu. The remaining Yidden, who did not want to hear Hashem’s message, died in the makkah of choshech. Some commentators (see Ohr Hachaim on Bereishis 15:14) say the ratio was more like one in five hundred! Whatever the percentage, this is fearsome!

The extreme worldwide natural events we are experiencing these days – hurricanes and floods in the South, earthquakes in Mexico, a heat wave in Australia, *wildfires in California, unprecedented cold in the Northeast – seem comparable to the makkos which eventually destroyed Mitzraim. They appear to be increasing in magnitude, and – when they are seen in combination with political and moral trends of a profoundly disruptive nature – I do not think that one can dismiss the possibility that they are leading up to a climax of cosmic proportions which will change the world just the way Yetzias Mitzraim changed the world forever.

We should not be so naïve as to think that we are reading these parshios for pleasure. We are reading them for survival, because it is quite possible that the very same scenario is occurring right now which occurred in Mitzraim, and that includes, besides the makkos, the imminent Geulah. As I have noted in the past, the Chofetz Chaim stated that “we can learn about the Geulah Shelemah from the events at the end of Golus Mitzraim.” (Rabbi Elchonen Wasserman zt”l)

We read in this week’s Haftara, “Do not be afraid, My servant Yaakov, and do not be frightened, O Israel, for I shall save you from afar, and your offspring from the land of their captivity …. Yaakov shall return and be tranquil … and none shall make him tremble…. Though I shall make an end of all the nations where I have scattered you, of you I shall not make an end.” (Yirmiah 46:27-8)

May we soon see the end of Golus and the day on which Hashem will “turn with compassion … to the people who declare the Oneness of His Name.” (Shabbos Mussaf Kedusha)

My father’s kvura in bitter cold.
In the center is Rabbi Naftali Jaeger,
Rosh Hayeshiva Sh’or Yoshuv:

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Roy Neuberger, author and public speaker, can be reached at
© Copyright 2018 by Roy S. Neuberger

* I’m taking the liberty of mentioning also the MUD FLOOD in Southern California.

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