The Wonder of Thunder
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The Wonder of Thunder

The Wonder of Thunder

What's the deeper meaning behind the creation of a loud smack right in the middle of a heavy rainstorm?

by

My two-year-old, Yaakov, shouts whenever there is a thunderstorm, and there are many in the U.S. during the summer. I guess lots of kids shout scared, as they run into their parents' arms or beds. But what Yaakov shouts always gives me and my wife a laugh. "It's a wunda!"

No one taught him to say the word ‘wonder' when hearing thunder. But somehow, through a divine twist of fate, when Yaakov hears the word ‘thunder,' he repeats it as ‘wonder'. Though he doesn't quite mean it this way, he's right; thunder is indeed a wonder.

Yaakov's thunder/wonder comment got me thinking: what is this loud crash of thunder and why did God create such a disturbing sound to appear smack in the middle of a heavy rainstorm?

Let's first explain what thunder is. (My apologies to the more knowledgeable reader, but this writer was pretty ignorant about thunder until recently.)

Thunder occurs when a flash of lightning heats up the air around it making the air expand very rapidly, or explosively. In fact, it is thought that the air around a lightning bolt heats up to five times hotter than the air on the sun's surface.

Heat causes things to expand, thus, the air expands when the lightning heats it. Because the rate of expansion is so fast, the air actually vibrates, causing waves. These sound waves comprise the crash of thunder that we hear.

That's how it works scientifically, but why did God make thunder?

The Talmud actually asks this question and says: Thunder was created to straighten out the crookedness of the heart (Brachot 59a). What does this mean? And how is the heart crooked?

If there's one area of life that man cannot control, it's the weather.

We tend to place much confidence in human wisdom and accomplishment. Technological advancements make us beam with pride as we look back upon ‘ancient' generations, some of them a mere decade or two ago, that didn't have the palm pilot, internet, not to mention the many significant medical breakthroughs. But sometimes, we place too much confidence in human wisdom and we forget that God still runs the world.

If there's one area of life that man cannot control, it's the weather. Ever wonder why all the news services spend so much time and emphasis on the weather? There's even a TV channel singularly dedicated to weather! I think it is because weather is one part of life that terrifies man, so we obsess over it. We can do nothing to stop or alter weather. From deadly hurricanes and tornadoes, to the rainstorm that cancels the outdoor picnic and BBQ, man is at the mercy of weather.

God created weather and designed the system of the rain cycle. Since we tend to forget that it is He who is in charge, He devised a mechanism to make us remember: thunder. Who isn't frightened from that first crash of thunder in a storm? Who feels totally secure that no harm will come to him as a result of the thunderstorm? We lull and distract ourselves away from such thoughts but in the back of our minds, they are there. Thunder makes us realize that we are not in true control of our lives; we exist only because God wants us to. This is why the Talmud (ibid.) states that upon hearing thunder, we must make the blessing, ‘His (God's) strength and power fills the world.' In this way, the ‘crookedness' of the heart is straightened.

But why does God make thunder occur specifically in the middle of a rainstorm? Why not ‘straighten the crookedness', at a different time using a different phenomenon?

Rain brings productivity, making things grow and providing material nourishment for the world. We tend to think that we provide our own paychecks, that we can independently sustain our physical selves, that we ‘bring the rain' to produce the flowers in our lives. But this is not true and this is why we need the lesson of the thunder. God is in control and He delivers the rain. We must recognize this and ascribe proper gratitude toward Him.

God did not make a quiet, delicate appearance at Sinai. The mountain shook, lightning lit up the sky, thunder crashed and the Divine voice reverberated through the galaxies. The world was shocked into silence. The Torah was given through an earth-shattering event, literally, and the message is for us to shatter our own sense of invincibility, to recognize the true source of our well-being, and to allow the wonder of thunder to penetrate our souls.

Published: September 2, 2006


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Visitor Comments: 9

(9) Bob Rabinoff, May 13, 2007 3:44 PM

Thunder Claps and Rolls

Dear R. Leff,

The science was pretty good. When a lightning bolt delivers about 100,000 amps at 50 kV in less than a second, the air in the channel does heat up explosively. That causes not quite a vibration of the air, but a shock wave, like a sonic boom, because the air is actually expanding faster than the speed of sound. This is what we perceive (if we're close enough) as a "clap" of thunder, and often you can actually feel the shock, especially if you happen to be outdoors. After the shock wave has travelled some distance it expands outward and loses its intensity, and also some of its energy is dissipated due to friction. Then the wave slows to below the speed of sound and becomes an acoustic (sound) wave, which we perceive as the roll of distant thunder.

When I was in graduate school studying this stuff I delayed taking a course in cloud physics, because I was afraid of losing the innocent enjoyment of watching the clouds. What I found instead was that the more I learned, the more I appreciated clouds in all their varied manifestations. It was like getting to know an old friend on a much deeper level.

I think this is the way science must be approached. H" gave us an intellect to figure out how the world works. Ideally it would all automatically work for us without the intervention of technology, which can (generally does!) have unwanted side effects. But that understanding is not an end in itself -- it should teach us that behind all the laws of nature is Gd, Who created nature and its laws. Maybe then we'd be inspired to make His Will our will, rather than trying to impose our limited will on nature, with all the attendant dangers.

Rafi

(8) elonna, January 4, 2007 7:48 PM

how this helped

this was a really nice article... this helped me with G-d.... and now i will sit down and really ask and think who is G-d really.. so thank, you these stories are great....

(7) Keziah, September 5, 2006 8:23 AM

His Strength and Power Fill The World.

And, I do not believe I am invincible.
Everyday I am attacked for being 'different'. How could a daily dose of ignorant persecution make anyone believe they are invincible. My demeanor is more one of bravado to hide the fear of the ignorance which makes people attack another from their being 'different'.

(6) Laura, September 5, 2006 1:27 AM

Thunder

I used to be terrified of the thunder. I would see my mother crouch down behind a large chair in the corner and forget I was even there, so I learned to be very fearful of the thunder. Then one day on a retreat in the mountains, it began to rain and thunder and instead of feeling fear and terror, I was awe struck at God's power and majesty and felt comforted because the thunder reminded me "God IS in control" and I felt such peace. I have never been fearful of thunder since, except once, recently when in the way it was thundering, it sounded like God was angry at what was going on here on earth, but I still felt comforted in the fact that God is in control and began to pray prayers of repentance not only for me and my family, but my city, state, region, country, continent and so forth. Not that I am responcible for things that take place all over the world, but that I do not as a rule pray against such things, or for God's mercy for those in need or suffering on a daily basis etc. And even in the most frightening sounding thunder I have ever heard, there was still peace.

(5) Anonymous, September 3, 2006 11:09 PM

Wonderful Article

Thank you once again for this wonderful article. It was refreshing after a long wait for a new one.

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