One hundred and fifty-five years ago, on October 26, 1857, Henry Thoreau wrote in his journal:
A driving east or northeast storm. I can see through the drisk only one mile. The river is getting partly over the meadows at last, and my spirits rise with it. Methinks this rise of the waters must affect every thought and deed in the town. It qualifies my sentence and life.
Hurricane Sandy is on its way toward New England as I write. The rise of the waters is clearly affecting people’s thoughts and deeds around here, and not only in the towns of Lincoln and Concord: the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts will be “closed” tomorrow, in case the dreaded “Frankenstorm” comes to life.
My classes are cancelled, my bathtub is full of cold water, and my kayak is tightly lashed to my car, parked away from the towering oak trees. It took most of the rainy afternoon to finish deconstructing my sukkah and stow away its frame till next year.
Candles, check. Dry firewood, check. Drinking water, check. Good books, check! But I hope to do more than just wait out the storm and then hurry back to life’s routines. I want my spirits to rise with the waters, too.
The Jewish prayer book provides a way. There is a Hebrew blessing for every event in life, large or small, good or bad, whether daily or once-in-a-lifetime, and this includes hurricanes. When Sandy gets here I plan to recite this blessing:
Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, Melekh ha-‘olam, ‘oseh ma’asei v’reisheet.
The Hebrew starts out with the usual six words — which bless and recognize God as the reigning power of the universe — but then it ends with three words that might be less familiar, even to those who regularly recite blessings over candles every Friday night. These last three words mean,
“Who does the deed of creation.”
Note the present-tense verb in this bit of Hebrew text composed by the ancient Jewish sages: “who does the deed” and not “who did” it. The blessing comes with specific instructions: it is intended to be recited only once per day — “unless the skies have cleared completely and then the clouds returned.”
Jewish mysticism teaches that the entire world is recreated at every instant. Thus, a hurricane occasions a reminder to pay attention to the sky, as well as an opportunity to notice some of God’s awesome, powerful handiwork in the present moment. The rise of the waters does qualify my sentence and life.