In times of flooding and other miseries

The summer of 2021 brought an enormous flood over Belgium and several other Western European countries. This weekend, the Torah brings a line of help as Tree of Life or Etz haChayim.

Terrible floods

2020-2021 will go down in history as a special time for many countries. In Belgium (10 provinces hit), Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Poland and Italy it will also be remembered for several years for the incredible water damage and suffering it could cause in the summer of 2021.

The heavy rainfall of the previous days washed away cars, like little plastic ducks, leaving them strewn across the town, and caused damage to houses and other buildings, which will require clear up works for several weeks.

Bad weather crossed Belgium first from the South to the North and a few days later from the North to the South bringing the risk of flooding to the Netherlands.

Walloon Brabant got most affected with places around the Vesdre, Ourthe, Amblève and the Meuse. Trooze , Pepinster, and the neighbouring town of Verviers got the first “war” invasion of churning water. At several places, the water went up two to three floors up and undermining houses. Dinant and Eupen got their portion. Philippeville, Rochefort, got evacuated. Further flooded cities but with fewer casualties and less damage: Wavre, Chaumont-Gistoux and Walhain, where there was (only) mud up to 1.5m deep.

More than 22,000 people were without electricity in the south of the country due to weather damage to infrastructure. Drinking water supply has been interrupted in the above-mentioned places, as well as in municipalities of Huy and Marchin in the province of Liège. Rivers across the Walloon region remain above danger levels.

River flood alerts in Belgium as of 16 July 2021. Image: Voies Hydrauliques Wallonie

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In Belgium, on the 28th of July already 42 people were reported death.

Parashat Eikev

The coming Sabbath we are just coming up to Parashat Eikev which tells of the blessings of obedience to God, the dangers of forgetting God, and directions for taking the Land of Israel. Moses recalls the making and re-making of the Tablets of Stone, the incident of the Golden Calf, Aaron’s death, the Levites’ duties, and exhortations to serve God.

Zion (1903), Ephraim Moses Lilien

This coming weekend, we think about times that people thought that the Elohim had forsaken them. In the previous days, there were also many who asked where God was with all that could happen. Several also asked like Zion did

“Has god forsaken me?”

Zion also sighed

“my Sovereign has forgotten me” (49:14).

With this we look at the lament which opens the second of seven haftarot of consolation, marking the seven weeks (and seven Shabbatot ) between Tisha B’Av (9 Av) a day which is destined for tragedy, and Rosh Hashanah, Yom Teruah or the “day of shouting or blasting”.and these last days we could hear lots of crying and shouting, but luckily enough also a lot of people coming to rescue and coming to help all those affected by this disaster which took our country.

The 46th weekly Torah portion comprises Deuteronomy 7:12–11:25.

Parashat Eikev has six “open portion” (פתוחה‎, petuchah) divisions (roughly equivalent to paragraphs, often abbreviated with the Hebrew letter פ‎ (peh)). Parashat Eikev has several further subdivisions, called “closed portions” (סתומה‎, setumah) (abbreviated with the Hebrew letter ס‎ (samekh)) within the open portion divisions. The first open portion divides the first reading. The second open portion goes from the middle of the first reading to the middle of the second reading. The short third open portion is contained within the second reading. The fourth open portion starts in the second reading and contains all of the third reading. The fifth open portion corresponds to the fourth reading. And the sixth open portion spans the fifth, sixth, and seventh readings. A closed portion corresponds to the fifth reading. The sixth reading is divided into two closed portion divisions. And the short seventh reading corresponds to a final closed portion. {See, e.g., Menachem Davis, editor, The Schottenstein Edition Interlinear Chumash: Devarim/Deuteronomy (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2009), pages 55–78.}

Though the first verse offers little consolation, the rest of the haftarah responds to this sad statement that God would have forsaken, with positive, hopeful promises of future geulah or redemption.

In Devarim 11 we are told that those people at that time of writing the book had not seen the wonders of Jehovah which He did before. But they could see other wonders and therefore God requested them to guard every command He commanded them that day so that their days could be prolonged.

Deu 11:7-12 OJB But your eyes have seen kol ma’aseh Hashem which He did. (8) Therefore shall ye be shomer over all the mitzvot which I command you today, that ye may be strong, and go in and possess ha’aretz, whither ye go to possess it; (9) And in order that ye may prolong your yamim on ha’adamah, which Hashem swore unto Avoteichem to give unto them and to their zera, Eretz Zavat Cholov U’devash (land that floweth with milk and honey). (10) For ha’aretz, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as Eretz Mitzrayim, from whence ye came out, where thou sowedst thy zera, and wateredst it with thy foot, as a gan (garden) of herbs: (11) But ha’aretz, whither ye go to possess it, is an eretz of harim (hills) and beka’ot (valleys), and drinketh mayim of the matar of Shomayim; (12) An eretz which Hashem Eloheicha careth for; the eyes of Hashem Eloheicha are always upon it, from the reshit hashanah (beginning of the year) even unto the acharit shanah (end of the year).

Yes, we are assured that if we keep the mitzvot of the Elyon we may be strong and enter in and inherit the land, into which we go to inherit it. God is a God of His promise and no liar. We can trust Him. Even when we see now a lot of mud and debris, we may dream of a land flowing with milk and honey.

These days, being attacked by a horrible virus and by masses of destructive water currents, we should put our heads straight and hear the murmur of the Lord. He does not abandon those who are willing to be with Him. Even when we perhaps do not want to see rain for some time, He promises that there shall come times again where we do not have to be afraid of the rainfall.

Deu 11:13-15 JB2000 And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day: to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul (14) that I will give the rain of your land in its due season, the early rain and the latter rain, and thou shalt gather in thy grain and thy wine and thine oil. (15) And I will send grass in thy fields for thy beasts, and thou shalt eat and be full.

Since March last year, we have had to miss our joint prayer meetings and meals, while we had to celebrate the Sabbaths and feasts on our own. This coming weekend, we shall remember that better times will come. This will happen according to the promises of God, which will always come true for mankind. But it shall only come to those who worship that only One True God and do not bow down to other gods.

Deu 11:16-17 JB2000 Keep yourselves, therefore, that your heart not be deceived and ye turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; (17) and the LORD’S wrath be kindled against you and he shut up the heavens, that there be no rain and that the land yield not her fruit, and ye perish quickly from off the good land which the LORD gives you.

Upcoming life

Looking at all the damage, when we look at the mountains of waste that lie here and there, we must also see that new life will come out of that earth. Grass, bushes and trees will reappear, and the sun will brighten it up again.

Etz Chaim or Tree of Life

 

It is at such moments we should think of the Etz haChayim (Tree of life),  not only the Etz in the Gan Eden, but also that life-giving Word of God. Today that metaphor for the Torah we know, is the hope we should grasp. From that Book of books we can learn and get insight to arrange our life and how to tackle the bad things we might encounter.  Proverbs 3:18 tells us what to grasp:

Etz chaim hee l’machazikim bah (“She is a tree of life to those who grasp her”).

That Tree of Life is the Dvar Hashem, which is given to mankind for all times and in all situations. Certainly, when we do not feel so good, it is our best guide and help. It is our shomer or guardian in the worst situations.

We do know that everything that happens today is part of man’s fault. He has shown disrespect to nature and as such climate change brings us in difficult situations.

The Malbim, a 19th century voice, offers a compelling idea centred around the word “grasp.” He suggests that there are a few righteous people in the world who have strong enough natural inclinations towards ethical action that they almost intuit Torah. For the rest of us, our complex yetzer or inclinations require the decision to grasp Torah and hold it tightly, in order to make choices that move us toward righteousness.

Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak, a Mishnaic era source, suggests that Torah is like a tree because just as a small piece of wood can ignite larger ones to create a huge fire, even a single word of Torah can bring meaning and greater understanding.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of England from 1991-2013, teaches that it is not an accident that the verse comparing Torah to a tree of life is preceded by the following words:

Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace. (Prov. 3:17)

He teaches that the words of Torah are to be used in pursuit of peace and in generative conflict resolution, and in this way we can understand them as a metaphor for the kind of life we should aspire to live.

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