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How's the Weather?

Rabbi Dovid Kleiner

Though meteorology has been around since the days of Aristotle (who coined the term), much of what we now know about weather systems has only been revealed with the advent of modern equipment such as radar and satellites. Yet we find many statements regarding weather predictions and conditions in words of Chazal written some 2,000 years ago — many of which can be understood only now, as meteorologists continue to uncover secrets of Creation.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Gemara (Taanis 2a) states that there are three phenomena that do not follow any laws that Hashem set into nature, but are contingent entirely upon Hashem’s direct intervention: death, childbirth, and rainfall. 

Because these three phenomena are not subject to specific laws of nature, it stands to reason that they cannot be predicted.

Modern science has borne out what this gemara teaches. In general, natural events occur based on a set of rules that do not change. In most scientific disciplines, scientists can predict the results of almost any process with great certainty. For instance, a physicist testing a physical system can predict the results of his efforts as long as he takes into account the various forces that are at play in the system.

An exception to this rule is weather prediction. Weather prediction is so complex, and involves so many factors, that even the most proficient meteorologists are unable to predict the weather — even for the immediate future — with perfect precision. And they are certainly unable to provide an accurate long-range weather forecast.

Why is the weather so much less predictable than other natural forces? The Torah provides the answer: the behavior of the weather — and rainfall in particular — reflects the behavior of mankind. Hashem determines the weather based on people’s behavior (especially their conduct in interpersonal relationships), and adjusts the weather according to what human beings deserve to receive.

The Mishnah in Maseches Taanis refers to the phenomenon of rainfall as “gevuros geshamim,” which literally means “the might of rain.” Rabbi Ovadiah Bartenura explains: “Rainfall is one of HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s mighty deeds, as the verse states, ‘He does great things that cannot be estimated, wonders that cannot be counted; He provides rain to the land and sends water upon the streets’ (Iyov 5). That is why it is called gevuros geshamim.”

In order to gain a better understanding of the wondrous nature of rainfall, let us study the natural processes that create weather patterns.

 

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