This past Wednesday, Northern California experienced something resembling the ninth plague with which God struck the Egyptians when Pharaoh refused to free the Israelites. Choshek—darkness—enveloped us. It also issued major warnings.
Exodus 10:22-23 relates, “Moses held out his arm toward the sky and thick darkness descended upon all the land of Egypt for three days. People could not see one another . . .” The Israelites were spared. Two days ago, no one was.
Daytime darkness resulted from thick fog covered by heavy smoke from fires raging throughout California and the West. An orange sky—welcome to Mars—cast little physical light. But choshek might illuminate our thinking.
Two issues come to mind.
First, Western fires have grown harder to fight because the region has grown much dryer and hotter. Blindness to climate change won’t cut it. We need more awareness and action from Washington, which has the big bucks. We also need better forest management by federal and state officials. Prescribed burns and, in some cases, letting forests burn after lightning strikes or human malevolence/stupidity can eliminate fuel that would ignite bigger conflagrations in the future.
Further, the cost to taxpayers and stress on firefighters working under brutal conditions continually increase as Cal Fire seeks to protect communities in remote high-risk areas. I don’t blame the victims for loving beautiful, serene forests. But public support may no longer be sustainable for people who live isolated in those forests and won’t or can’t (re)build homes according to fire-resistant standards. Their insurance premiums are likely to skyrocket—if policies are available.
Building smart isn’t cheap. Not everyone has the assets. But it’s doable. Case in point:
My friend Dan recently built a luxury house in Lake County. An outstanding builder-developer, he situated the house away from others. He specified concrete/stucco walls, a metal roof and fire-resistant windows. The floors are concrete-slab with a stone-tile finish—not wood. The house includes other safety details plus a major water supply and fire hydrant on site. This reflects Dan’s sense of personal responsibility.
Second, the nation is experiencing a darkness of the soul, which many Americans refuse to acknowledge. Wednesday morning, a peek into Bob Woodward’s new book Rage (out September 15) documented Donald Trump’s refusal to tell the American people that in early February, he knew the coronavirus was far deadlier than the flu and presented a major public health problem. Trump didn’t want to cause “panic.” Interviewed after the book’s revelations, he defended his position.
Really? Would you fail to tell Americans a hurricane was coming?
Had Trump been forthright, Americans could have begun isolating and wearing masks far earlier than mid-March. Many who believed Trump’s public assertions about COVID-19 being a hoax and a Democratic plot might have complied. Tens of thousands of lives—a hundred thousand? More?—might have been saved.
The Jewish New Year (5781)—Rosh Hashanah—begins in one week. Hopefully, the choshek we’ve just experienced will prompt Jews everywhere to further search our souls regarding personal and communal responsibilities and opportunities—and all Americans to consider fact and truth to be our friends, not enemies.
May we find a way to see or—light—by foregoing falsehoods and conspiracy theories, and listening to and respecting each other.
May the memories of the innocent killed on September 11, 2001, including all the first responders and courageous civilians who struggled to save them and others—and those who succumbed later be for a blessing. May the survivors heal. And may we learn.
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