Jewish Tradition Celebrates the Rhythm of Nature. What Happens When It’s Thrown Off Balance?

By Hannah S. Pressman
July 12, 2021

Judaism offers us so many chances to celebrate the rhythms of the natural world: trees on Tu B’shevat; spring greens on Passover; fall harvests and outdoor living on Sukkot. But what does our tradition offer when the rhythms of the natural world are knocked askew? We have blessings for seeing large and small wonders of nature, lightning and rivers, animals and trees — even a special blessing for seeing a rainbow. What language is available for the opposite of rapture, when we witness something on our earth that should not be? Is there a reverse-bracha to mark the sadness of seeing tree leaves fall when it’s not yet autumn?

We are witnessing drastic changes to our earth in real time, and no area will be spared: the AP recently reported that while the West is getting hotter during the day, the East Coast is becoming hotter at night, a worrying trend because that means fewer cool nights for relief. As a society, we need to be concerned about the public-health ramifications for those who can’t afford or can’t access cool indoor air during ever-warmer days. As parents, it is getting harder to tell our kids that some terrifying weather event is a rare circumstance likely to not repeat itself for many years, when actually these extreme events have started to repeat themselves with increasing frequency. Last week’s Heat Dome was billed as a “once-in-a-millennium” convergence of factors, but as Portland-based journalist Tove Danovich wrote in the Washington Post, “Unprecedented is becoming the norm.”

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