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Great Balls of Ice

Great Balls of Ice

One small storm for man, one giant message for mankind.


This was the year the calendar lied.

The first three weeks of June had been the coldest and wettest in New York City memory, and most of us were getting pretty fed up. The daily weather forecast sounded like it had been pre-recorded and didn't require any editing or variation.

"Mixed clouds and sunshine today, showers possible, overcast, with intermittent thunderstorms, and an unsettled weather pattern. More of the same tomorrow, and the next day, and the next..."

You get the idea. Malibu Beach it wasn't. But the calendar said June 26th, so off we went to our summer bungalow in the Catskill Mountains. We have spent weekends of the last 30 summers in the placid confines of tranquil Monticello and our anticipation simply overruled the seeming certainty of frosty nights, muddy ball fields, and unemployed tubes of Coppertone.

It was just past noon on that humid Friday when my teeming Sienna ambled down Varnell Road, up the tapered knoll, and over the speed bumps into Castle Hill Cottages. I disembarked from the van, stepped on some moist grass, and thought I saw a few rays glinting through some high clouds. It had been quite some time since I had last witnessed true sunshine so I couldn't say for sure that I saw what I thought I saw. But I wasn't being fooled. Twenty-two consecutive days of rain will do that to a guy.

My wife, my daughter, and I spent the next 90 minutes doing the annual unloading and unfolding, and watched the swirling clouds do their daily dance. It wasn't more than a few minutes later that the heavens transformed into a menacing canopy of the deepest shade of gray imaginable.

"Here we go again," I muttered. "Time for our daily dose."

The scene quickly transformed from the torrential to the providential.

The lightening struck and the thunder clapped, and in seconds the powerful downpour formed little lakes in every cranny where pavement was absent.

But then the scene quickly transformed from the torrential to the providential. Our ears heard it before our eyes considered it.


"What's making all that noise?"

And then we saw it: balls of hail, raining down from the sky at breakneck speed and intensity. Small golf balls -- thousands, no tens of thousands -- of spheres of ice came crashing down. (Ice? The thermometer outside read 77 degrees Fahrenheit.)

I watched my Toyota being pelted with a vengeance and was sure that my windshield was seconds away from shattering. My wife and I just gaped with awe, and our daughter was shaking with fear. The lights flickered and went dark. The power went out.

"What's going on?" Chanala pleaded as she ran to me for protection, even though we all stood under a sturdy roof. She buried her face in my shoulder and cried tears of bewilderment.

The whole bizarre episode was over in less than three minutes, but somehow we knew the impact would not soon be forgotten. We gazed out at the guilty skies and watched as the clouds broke and the sun tried to appear. All over the ground were thousands of surviving ice balls. Defying the tropic temperature, they lay still, almost innocent, oblivious to their own presence and contradiction.

Later that night, the Castle Hill residents gathered at the synagogue to usher in the Shabbat. After the services, the buzz centered on the now-famous summer ice storm. No one recalled anything like it before. Some of us sought the "deeper meaning" to this uncommon event, but we walked home without answers.

The next morning we read the weekly portion from the Torah. It was the story of Korach -- that infamous rabble-rouser who brought divisiveness and friction to the newly formed Jewish People. Korach challenged Moses' leadership and led a mutiny in the ranks that divided the populace.

I stood in the synagogue and listened to the Torah reader, and suddenly it hit me. Ice! The Hebrew word for ice is kerach'! The exact same letters as the week's Torah reading! The "coincidence" was too obvious to be ignored. Ice -- kerach -- falling in the summer when we read about Korach. Perhaps God was somehow reminding us of the dangers of disunity and dissension, the forces of Korach.

Unity is the Jewish People's secret weapon.

In fact, the history of the Jewish People is testimony to this phenomenon. Unity was actually the secret weapon of the Israeli armies that fought so many wars during the early formative years of its existence.

The Talmud (Yerushalmi Pe'ah, Chapter I) reminds us that even if the prevailing Kings of the Jews, such as Achav and others, brought idolatry and blasphemy to the People and were inherently evil, they nevertheless benefited from uncanny Heavenly assistance and the won the wars they fought.

The only reason for this special dispensation was that there was an unusual spirit of togetherness among the masses. Even the kingdom 0f David, perhaps the greatest monarchy of all, did not merit this level of support from Above because so much discord permeated the citizenry during his reign.

God seems to place a special premium on His children being of one voice and His family waving one banner. No matter how many individuals may be living the good life, He will not tolerate internal strife and dissonance. It's what ultimately led the destruction of the Second Temple and may still, 2000 years later, be the greatest impediment to its rebuilding.

We need to take this problem seriously. We need to begin thinking as a People, not as individuals. We need to feel support for each other, show support for each other, and put aside petty differences and controversies. If we are serious about building this new Temple, we cannot afford to bark and gripe about the trivial differences among us.

Let's stop the bickering and put aside the superficial conflicts that masquerade as principles.

Three thousand years ago we won wars by sticking together. Today we face wars all the time. Often times it feels like it is us against the world -- because it is. Just one visit to the UN will confirm that as fact. But those wars will not be won by expert diplomacy or by strategic genius alone. We must employ our secret weapon -- the one that has a proven track record, the one that so often seems so out of reach and so unattainable.

Each person must start in his own backyard, in his own neighborhood -- perhaps even within in his own family. Let's stop the bickering and put aside the superficial conflicts that masquerade as principles. See the big picture and relinquish your stronghold on piddling opinions and sentiments.

Distribute compliments openly to all family members in the presence of all family members. Become an example of being easy to forgive. Create projects for good will that the whole family can participate in. Create projects that the whole neighborhood can participate in. Plan family outings. Eat supper together. Have discussions about ways you can increase unity.

The forces of dissension are always trying to crash through our atmosphere, pelt our roofs and windshields, and threaten our security. It may look like summer outside, but ice balls are coming. And the power of unity can shield us.

All we need to do is stick together. It's our secret and most powerful weapon.

August 8, 2009

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Visitor Comments: 17

(17) Anonymous, August 18, 2009 6:08 AM

Thunder is good.

I like lightning and thunder.It's a humbling experience that disturbs the rancor of the have lightning cracking at your windowsill. I remember running down the hall looking for my Great Aunt and she had never seen anyone so afraid of lightning. Maybe its' because I grew up near a marsh that flooded really badly in the rainy season.

(16) Anonymous, August 13, 2009 9:56 AM

having a 'good eye' is the key to unity, i believe

b"h b"h i have been BLESSED with a 'good eye'.and i have made this blessing into a mitzvah which i strive to always act upon. Hashem has blessed me with the ability to almost always be able to EASILY give others the benefit of the doubt, be able to think of many reasons why a person might be behaving in a particular way, know that i am not perfect, etc. because of this blessing from Hashem, which i strive to continue to improve on through reading mussar type books, etc., and which i strive to utilize at ALL times to all people, i am blessed to have shalom bayis with most people, jew or gentile, with whom i come in contact with. it's a wonderful feeling to have shalom bayis with all the people i come in contact with. and for sure it doesn't mean giving up on what's right in ANY way! strive to have a 'good eye.' try to think of the many reasons someone might be behaving the way they are! giving the benefi of the doubt involves creativity! is the reason this person didn't return my call because of illness in the family, h'v; financial problems, h'v; etc. and has NOTHING to do with ME? kol tuv.

(15) Judy in Atlanta, August 11, 2009 4:08 PM

Questions: Love and like?

The subject of Jewish unity has been a top of discussion in our family in the last week. Quite a "coincidence" that this article came out. We still have a few questions. We are supposed to love our fellow Jews, but does that mean we have to like them? In the U.S. there are several politicians and elected officials whose views and values appear to be so different from ours. Then, of course, there is the businessman/swindler and his family. Must we love them? If so, can we love them because they are Jews and still dislike them? Since my mother is a survivor of the Shoah, I have an additional concern and fear - that these people will bring about a wave of Anti-Semitism that the country has never known. Beautifully written, Rabbi.

(14) Ruthie Thurm, August 11, 2009 5:38 AM

good question, not-so-good answer

When Hashem punished the snake, He cursed him with free and unlimited access to all the dirt he would need to live without ever having to bother asking Him for anything. Sounds like a blessing in disguise? No. Not at all. By burning the bridges of need between the snake and G-d, the ties of communication were forever broken never to be mended again. Big loss on the snake's part. Even in the next world. Let's try to kal v'chomer yidden in Eretz Yisroel vs. yidden in Chul. Jews who live in Eretz Yisroel have to constantly pray to G-d for rain, and thus "bother" Him all the time. That's exactly what Hashem wants from his children. Whereas Jews here in New York (and elsewhere around the globe) have been inundated with rain until they can vomit- similar to the punishment Hashem gave to the Bnei Yisroel in the desert when they asked for meat; slav for thirty days straight until they couldn't bear the sight of it, nevermind the taste of it. Does Kerach equal Korach. Yes- but which parsha immediately preceded it? That's right. Shelach. The sin of the Meraglim. All those Jews who despised the Land then and continue to despise the Land NOW, by not inheriting and taking possession of it NOW are the ones who are causing all of our collective problems. Hashem is screaming out to us to seek shelter from the rain of galus on dryer, warmer, sunnier shores. Did you know that Eretz Yisroel is only a ten hour flight away? If we are to truly seek the right answer to the right questions we first must have the right facts. The first and foremost prerequisite to "sticking together" requires living together. All of us. In Hashem's Land. Not Obama's. Pack your bags. Go Home. Then stick together. "The ice balls are coming... the power of unity can only shield us in our own Land. It's our open secret and our most powerful weapon."

(13) Anonymous, August 10, 2009 8:50 PM

I agree with this article..

my primary school motto,was this..If we all work to gether for the common good there is no limit to what we can achieve...!! Just do that,and you will be successful...

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