The arrival of a hurricane is frighteningly relevant to Yom Kippur. No amount of money or piece of technology could keep Florence from hitting the US mainland. 

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

As I write this, the number one headline this week is about “Hurricane Florence” as it prepares to pound down on the Carolinas. As a Canadian and Israeli, I don’t know what life in a hurricane or tornado is like, but I can assure you that our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who are affected by Florence.

I believe that the arrival of a hurricane is almost frighteningly relevant to Yom Kippur. Hurricanes and other natural disasters remind us that no matter how wealthy, healthy, or wise we think we may be, we are completely powerless when it comes to such things.

There is no amount of money or piece of technology known to man that can keep Florence from hitting the US mainland. So, too, Yom Kippur teaches us that we are in God’s hands. We are all equal and we are all being judged on Yom Kippur. No one knows what the year ahead has in store for us.

Actually, hurricanes are even more relevant to Yom Kippur than are most other natural disasters. Unlike earthquakes, for example, there is warning when a hurricane is going to hit. You often get 7-10 days’ warning, giving people time to do what they need to do. Sometimes it means boarding up the windows and sometimes it means evacuating.

But the only true defense against hurricanes and natural disasters is prayer. So, too, the period between Rosh Hashana is also 7-10 days (7 “intermediate” days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur or 10 days if you include the first day of Rosh Hashana). We have “notice” that Yom Kippur is coming and we can prepare with prayer, repentance and good deeds.

And there’s more! On Yom Kippur afternoon, the Book of Jonah is read publicly in the synagogue. Jonah’s boat was rocked and he was thrown overboard only to be swallowed by a giant fish… during a storm! And how was he saved? Only through prayer! He was powerless to save himself! My, how Florence is so relevant to Yom Kippur!

A simple look at the most prominent prayer of Yom Kippur will confirm my theory about the similarity between Yom Kippur and Florence:

“On Rosh Hashana, it is inscribed, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed – how many will die and how many will be born, who will live and who will die, who in a good time, and who by an untimely death, who by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by wild beast, who by famine and who by thirst, who by earthquake and who by plague, who by strangulation and who by decapitation, who will rest and who will wander, who will be at peace and who pursued, who will be serene and who tormented, who will become impoverished and who wealthy, who will be debased, and who exalted. But repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severity of the decree.”

May God seal us all in the Book of Life for a good new year!