Hurricane Sandy’s $50 billion damage demonstrated the vulnerability of America’s largest cities to the effects of global warming. Christiana Figueres, the top United Nations diplomat for international climate negotiations, said Sandy serves as “yet another wake-up call” for the U.S. to cut carbon pollution.
The other week I was listening to Rabbi Wallerstein speak about Hurricane Sandy and he mentioned that he was looking for some verse in the Torah which ties in the elements of nature in the storm such as trees, wind, etc. Someone in his shul came up with the verse from Chapters of the Fathers 3:17, "One whose wisdom is greater than his deeds, what is he comparable to? To a tree with many branches and few roots; comes a storm and uproots it, and turns it on its face..."
While he was discussing the elements of nature, my thoughts immediately turned to the Rashi in this week's parsha 32:9.
And he said, "If Esau comes to one camp and strikes it down, the remaining camp will escape."
ט. וַיֹּאמֶר אִם יָבוֹא עֵשָׂו אֶל הַמַּחֲנֶה הָאַחַת וְהִכָּהוּ וְהָיָה הַמַּחֲנֶה הַנִּשְׁאָר לִפְלֵיטָה:
one camp and strikes it down: Heb. וְהִכָּהוּ הַמַחִנֶה הָאַחַת. [The word] מַחִנֶה is used both in the masculine and feminine genders. [Other examples are:] (Ps. 27:3):“If a camp encamps (תַּחִנֶה) against me.” This is feminine. (Below, 33: 8)“this (הַזֶה) camp.” That is masculine. Likewise, there are other things (nouns) that are used both in the masculine and feminine genders, e.g. (above 19:23):“The sun (הַשֶׁמֶשׁ) came out (יָצָא) upon the earth” ; (Ps. 19:7):“From the end of the heavens is its source (מוֹצָאוֹ) .” These are masculine. (II Kings 3:22):“the sun shone (זָרְחָה) on the water.” This is feminine. And likewise, רוּחַ, wind (Job 1:19):“when, behold, a great (גְדוֹלָה) wind came (בָּאָה) .” This is feminine;“and struck (וַיִגַע) the four corners of the house.” This is masculine. [Another instance is] (I Kings 19:11):“and a great (גְדוֹלָה) and strong (וְחָזָק) wind, splitting (מְפָרֵק) mountains.” This is both masculine and feminine. Likewise, אֵשׁ, fire, as (Num. 16:35):“And fire went forth (יָצְאָה) from before the Lord,” feminine gender; (Ps. 104:4):"burning (לֹהֵט) fire, masculine gender.
המחנה האחת והכהו: מחנה משמש לשון זכר ולשון נקבה. (תהלים כז ג) אם תחנה עלי מחנה, הרי לשון נקבה, (לג ח) המחנה הזה, לשון זכר. וכן יש שאר דברים משמשים לשון זכר ולשון נקבה, (לעיל יט כג) השמש יצא על הארץ, (תהלים יט ז) מקצה השמים מוצאו, הרי לשון זכר. (מ"ב ג כב) השמש זרחה על המים, הרי לשון נקבה. וכן רוח (איוב א יט) והנה רוח גדולה באה, הרי לשון נקבה, (שם) ויגע בארבע פנות הבית, הרי לשון זכר, (מ"א יט יא) ורוח גדולה וחזק מפרק הרים, הרי לשון זכר ולשון נקבה. וכן אש (במדבר טז לה) ואש יצאה מאת ה', לשון נקבה. (תהלים קד ד) אש לוהט, לשון זכר:
I am, by no means, supplying a reason for Hurricane Sandy but I find it interesting that it happened in an age when we try to obscure differences between males and females. This past month "Six women were arrested at the Western Wall on Thursday for wearing prayer shawls during services in a manner that has been disallowed by the site’s management and police." This past month a man wrote an article about how he broke gender norms and baked challah at a class where the instructor defined the act as a traditional woman's mitzvah. This past month people may have voted for allowing a man to say to another man "Harei attah mekudash li."
Hurricane Sandy destroyed our machaneh - our secure encampment through wind and fire, through words that don't have a secure gender identity.