Once, two men were negotiating the sale of a mule. The seller claimed that the animal was hardworking and obedient. Two weeks later, the buyer, now irate, summoned the mule's former owner. "You lied to me! This beast is lazy and uncooperative. I can't get him to budge."
Grinning, the seller whacked the donkey across the backside with a 2x4 and hollered, "Move!" Immediately, the animal sauntered over to a pile of wood waiting to be transported. "See, I told you this mule is cooperative and obedient. First, however, you have to get his attention."
Parshah Vaera begins with God introducing Godself to Moses by the ineffable four-letter divine name, YHVH, a declension of the Hebrew verb "to be." As such, God, unlike inert idols, is identified as the Source of Being, Who causes all that is to transpire and all that lives to exist. It is this God who now offers the enslaved Israelites four promises of redemption, which we memorialize through the drinking of four cups of wine at Pesach. The rest of the parshah describes the initial plagues brought upon the Egyptians to loosen Pharaoh's stranglehold from the necks of our Hebrew ancestors.
The Torah offers an interesting observation about the plague of hail. It indicates that those Egyptians who heeded God's word brought their servants and livestock indoors prior to the onset of the storm. Those who turned a deaf ear did nothing, exposing their workers and flocks to disaster. As some commentators note, hail was actually the seventh of the plagues. By that time, one would think that God might have gotten the Egyptians' attention.
The Weather: It's a'Changin'
Last month, representatives of the world's nations met in Copenhagen hoping to enact a treaty to help combat global climate change. As reported by the International Red Cross, the 14 hottest years on record have all happened in the last 15 years, and the summer (minimum) ice cover of the Arctic is now 24 percent below the 1979-2000 level.
Heat trapping carbon dioxide in the air now exceeds 380 parts per million, up over 100 ppm from the world's preindustrial levels, increasing extreme weather events, such as more intense hurricanes, more frequent heat waves, prolonged draughts and heavier rains. Yet despite the mounting evidence, no binding policies were enacted, as nations remained divided against each other.
Such divisions are mirrored in the United States. A recent Rasmussen report indicates that only 34 percent of Americans believe that global warming is attributable to human activity, down 13 percent from April 2008. A November 2009 Associated Press poll reports that 63 percent of Americans fear future harm, but a similar percentage would balk at corrective measures that might raise their monthly electric bills by even $10 per month.
If we think about the progression of the plagues, they really constituted an ecological disaster for the Egyptians -- rivers running with blood; infestations of frogs, lice and locust; boils and mad-cow disease; the blotting out of the sun by storms and dust.
Yet even amidst an outcry, Pharaoh refused to change policies. Hopefully, we and our leaders will act more wisely. As we know, the definition of insanity is to expect different results while continuing the same course of action.
Rabbi Howard A. Addison is religious leader of Congregation Melrose B'nai Israel Emanu-El in Cheltenham. E-mail him at: Rabbia firstname.lastname@example.org .