When the Jewish year of 5,765 (which we are about to leave tomorrow night) began 13 lunar months ago, who would have guessed that it was doomed to be one of the worst in living memory, in terms of the number of deaths caused by natural disaster.
The elements – water, wind and fire – featured strongly this year, destroying the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
One horrific name: Tsunami. Let us pause for a moment to think of those who either lost their lives on December 26th or whose continued existence on this earth will have been forever changed by what they experienced. May G-d give them some sort of comfort to survive the challenges they face every second of the day.
Two other unforgettable names: Katrina and Rita
We saw the effects of wind and rain on the unprepared cities of New Orleans and Biloxi. Nature wreaked her worst on vulnerable folk. Give thought to the families of those elderly people who lost their lives so unnecessarily, in the destroyed bus that was cruelly employed to save them. Had they stayed where they were, they would be here today.
London July 7th 2005. Bali October 1st 2005.
More deaths, this time at the hands of fellow human beings. More unnecessary carnage. More lives destroyed.
All this in the year 5,765.
In the Synagogues on Rosh Hashanah (The New Year) and Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement, ten days after the New Year), we read a shattering prayer. It chronicles how, at this time of the year, G-d decides our fates.
“On Rosh Hashanah, it will be written and on the Fast of Yom Kippur, it will be sealed; how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created. Who will live and who will die? Who will die at his pre-destined time and who before his time?; who by water and who by fire….who by thirst and who by storm….who will live in harmony and who will be harried….who will enjoy tranquillity and who will suffer…who will be impoverished and who will be enriched….?”
“But repentance, prayer and charity will remove the evil decree.”
I read this passage now, thinking about the events that struck us over the last year and I find myself shaking. “Who by water and who by fire….who by storm?”. Obviously, we didn’t repent enough, we didn’t pray and we didn’t give enough charity and as a result of our selfish behaviour – our desire to destroy and disrespect the gift given to humanity by G-d - His earth wreaked her terrible revenge upon us.
We are at the dawn of a new year, 5766. May I wish you, whoever you are, wherever you are, a year of tranquillity, of health, happiness and fulfilment. Most of all, I pray from the depths of my soul that G-d never sends us another year like the one we’re about to leave.
Let us hope and pray that humanity is now facing a better dawn on earth than the sunset we saw over the last 13 months.
Happy New Year.
Peace. For G-d’s sake. Peace.