The Ba’al Shem Tov teaches us to find Divine providence in everything we see and observe around us. Originally the story began with a leaf falling on a worm to protect it from the elements. But now, as we continue the story into our present day, instead of a leaf, we have a phenomenon called the “Polar Vortex.”
Before I continue, let me first preface that this article is not intended to make light of the situation. To be sure, the freezing cold weather, gale force winds, banks of snow, are not something to take lightly. But as we are encouraged to take lessons from everything we observe, that is why I sat down to write the article tonight.
Conceptualizing the Vortex
The first task when writing these pieces is to conceptualize the event into an idea. Then from that idea or isolated spark, we can then begin to implant it within the landscape of the Torah. Pertaining to the Polar Vortex, the concept we have chosen is a Kabbalistic principle called “they reversed places” (אחליפו דוכתייהו).
First let’s quote from Greg Laden’s article called: “Go home, Arctic, You’re Drunk.”
“…the cold air mass that usually sits up on the Arctic during the northern Winter has moved, drooped, shifted, gone off center, to engulf part of the temperate region. If I go even farther north, at some point it will start to get warm again… In fact, it is relatively warm up on the North Pole right now. Alaska and Europe are relatively warm as well.
The Polar Vortex, a huge system of swirling air that normally contains the polar cold air has shifted so it is not sitting right on the pole as it usually does. We are not seeing an expansion of cold, an ice age, or an anti-global warming phenomenon. We are seeing the usual cold polar air taking an excursion.”
Throughout history, most of the people on earth have lived in the northern hemisphere, while even today only a small fraction of people live south of the equator. Now, the Zohar poses the following question: According to this correspondence, we would expect that the further north we go—relative to most of the world’s population—the hotter it should get, but in reality, we all know that this is not the case. The further north you go the colder it gets.
The answer that the Zohar gives1 is that here we see the most important manifestation of the Kabbalistic principle called “they reversed places” (אחליפו דוכתייהו) in a geographical context. This principle exhibits the essence of what a rectified state of reality is like. It is also very similar to the notion of inter-inclusion. It means that two powers or forces have switched places. Each has left its natural vessel (in this case, its natural location on the globe) and entered into the vessel of the other. The locations where I expect to find cold and hot are reversed. The Zohar says that this is a very important phenomenon of the inhabited part of the Earth.
As mentioned above, the Zohar also knows that there is land south of the equator, but it says that this is the reason that most of mankind, from its very beginnings to date, lives in the Northern hemisphere, because only the northern hemisphere manifests this state of inter-inclusion. The land of the northern hemisphere is better suited for habitation because it is more amenable to reaching a state of the mature rectification or the inter-inclusion between two opposite states of being: that which we think should be hot is cold, and that which is cold is hot.
Back to Basics
What is now being experienced with the Polar Vortex is a return to a less sophisticated state. If you live in the southern hemisphere, the south is indeed cold and the north is indeed hot. In this sense, the southern hemisphere is natural. Because it exhibits nature in its raw, still unrectified form.
But this is exactly what is happening now to the north. The north is now warm, and the south of the northern hemisphere is now cold. Some take this to mean that civilization is moving too fast, too many greenhouse gas emissions, etc… Whether the Polar Vortex is the result of global warming or not, there is a very important lesson that we can take from these events:
The events surrounding the Polar Vortex are a good opportunity to work to become more north again. This means that while we shouldn’t trade places in an unhealthy way (e.g. population swaps in Israel or confusion over gender in the U.S.), we should strive to include more positive opposites in our lives for the good. Not to be so rigid in our own opinions, but to work to inter-include or sow more of the colors and hues of the Jewish people into one magnificent tapestry.
Adapted from Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh’s essay “Earth Sciences A Kabbalistic Model of the Oceans and Continents” (the Polar Vortex part is my own add-on application)
1. There is a great deal of in-depth commentary on this topic. Most importantly see the Eishel Avraham’s (Fiorda: 1701) commentary on these folios. See also the Alter Rebbe’s Lukutei Torah, Tazria 19d-20a and Mikdash Melech on these folios.
About the Author: Yonatan Gordon has spent most of his past 13 professional years in the world of Jewish publishing. He was the Marketing Manager at Kehot Publication Society (publishing arm of Chabad) for the better part of six years. He is founder of the website Community of Readers.
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