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Parshas Vaeira - Potholes & Patches                27 Teves 5783

01/20/2023 08:33:54 AM


This week’s Dvar Torah is being sponsored by Rand Levin and Sari Kahn and family in memory of Rand’s father, Aryeh Leib ben Yisrael HaLevi on his Yahrzeit 27 Teves

From time to time, I look back over the quarter century since we started our new life here,  in San Diego. Each of us tends to review periods of our lives from different perspectives, memories, challenges,  the array of activities we’ve enjoyed and the many personalities we’ve encountered over the course of time. I am sure anyone who has lived someplace for an extended period of time grows accustomed to the common, typical  nuances of that location and revels at the rare occurrences as well. This winter in San Diego has brought rainfall to our region that I don’t remember having experienced in all my years here. What, you may ask, brought me to this realization? Did I compare the rainfall statistics over the last number of years? Was my lawn growing faster and greener this year? The answer to those questions is no. I came to this conclusion as I was driving, zig zagging through the streets to avoid newly formed potholes and, in some areas, new rivers of running water. This brought back memories of growing up in New York, seeing thawing mushrooms of potholes throughout the streets of Brooklyn, Queens, pretty much everywhere.

The last day of the Sukkos festival is an independent holiday called Shmini Atzeres. On that day we recite a special Tefilla – Tal - for the upcoming season of rain. The concluding verses are filled with the repetitive plea: גשמי ברכה ולא לקללה  - ‘Rain should be a blessing and not a curse’. Rain brings much that’s good, especially for a state which has continuously had to deal with severe drought. But rain also brings mudslides, erosion, and a slew of potholes. It was recently reported by Mario Escalera, a member of San Diego’s pothole repair crew: “They are everywhere right now.” He said he always knows his work will pile up when the rain clouds head to town. Despite the years of rarity of this event, for Escalera, rain clouds mean big potholes A spokesperson for the City of San Diego stated that San Diego had more than 15,000 reports of potholes in 2022. “We try to go for at least 30 potholes a day,”. He laughed when asked if rainstorms meant “job security.” “It’s good for us, but sad for the citizens of this city,” he shrugged. When asked about the job, Escalera stated that other drivers had been at constant risk of losing their jobs throughout these past years of drought. However, throughout 2022, potholes remained on the growing ‘to do’ list, part of San Diego’s ‘Get It Done’ app. The City of San Diego said it took crews an average of nine days to patch each pothole in 2022. That was a vast improvement from 2021, when crews averaged 19 days to close a complaint. I’m amazed but not surprised at how many potholes there are and how long it takes to fix them.

Perhaps not everyone reading this will hit a pothole or even know what it is. So, for clarity, potholes are typically small, but on occasion can quickly become rather large bowl-shaped depressions in a paved surface. In other words, they can be quite dangerous. They tend to have sharp edges with vertical sides at the top of the hole. These hazardous depressions are most caused by water seeping into cracks throughout the surface of a road.  These cracks, combined with the vibration of tires running over them, cause the asphalt to collapse.  The City of San Diego repairs more than 30,000 potholes per year using materials such as a hot patch compound and bagged asphalt. And that’s during years of drought.  This latest series of rare storms will make this previous number of potholes seem minimal.

It’s expected that things will erode and breakdown over time. When a natural disaster hits, however, massive damage and destruction can occur without warning in minutes if not seconds. We have all read about, watched, or witnessed countless natural disasters here and abroad. Nevertheless, the ten makkos/plagues which devastated Egypt were basically a onetime occurrence (although some of the plagues occurred again at other points in history). The plague that reminds me of the ‘pothole’ issue occurred with the seventh plague, ‘barad’/hail, which is the last of the plagues listed this week.

In this week’s Parshas Vaeira the Torah states in Shmos 9:22 "ויאמר ה' אל משה נטה את ידך על השמים ויהי ברד בכל ארץ מצרים, על האדם ועל הבהמה ועל כל עשב השדה בארץ מצרים" “ “’God,’ said to Moshe, ‘Stretch out your hand toward the sky, and there will be hail throughout all Egypt. [It will fall] on man and beast, and on all outdoor plants all over Egypt”. The Midrash Madregas HaAdom explains that the plague began as mere rain because Hashem hoped  the Egyptians would still stop and repent from their evil ways. Eventually, the rain was converted into a storm. Thunder crashed, lightning struck, and the earth quaked. Then huge hailstones, composed of blocks of ice and of fire, rained down from Heaven.  The fire did not consume the ice, nor did the ice extinguish the fire. The loud crashing of falling hailstones rocked the land. Midrash Lekach Tov describes how the hail broke entire trees and destroyed the crops even down to the deepest roots in the ground, breaking up the ground and its surface. (Sound familiar?) The Midrash Rabbah 12:3 relates the plagues were a clear sign of retribution - measure for measure. The Jews had to plant all of the trees and crops and could not go home; As a result, the plants and the ground were destroyed by the hail. The Abarbanel, Shmos 7:14, writes that the Egyptians beat the Jews, so the hail beat the Egyptians, literally down to the ground.

In conclusion, the Malbim explains the hail phenomena both scientifically and miraculously. During the natural course of a storm, one sees lightning and then hears thunder even though they are, in actuality, occurring at the same time. The reason we hear a pause is because the sense of sight (light) travels more quickly than our  sense of hearing (sound). In the case of the Makkos, the opposite took effect; the verse states that the sound of the thunder was then followed by seeing the lightning, demonstrating the occurrence of a miracle within a miracle- something that was beyond nature.

The takeaway is all about what we do and how we handle a Bracha/Blessing such as rain. If we use the blessings of Hashem properly, they will continue to flourish, building upon what we already have. Unfortunately, if we do not use each Bracha properly, serving Hashem in a better, more effective, meaningful manner, then all we will end up with will be potholes, attempting to patch up our lives instead of seeing the true potential of what the rain has to offer.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Mon, April 15 2024 7 Nisan 5784