A Summer of Testing the Limits

Illustration: Escorting the bride to the wedding canopy by Davidbena - Own work [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia

Illustration: Escorting the bride to the wedding canopy by Davidbena - Own work [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia

This summer has been unusual in a number of ways: we've had a string of very hot days and we’ve also seen the number of people sick from the coronavirus reaching unprecedented levels.

While the coronavirus bad news continues to blow in, we do see a rather significant change in our weather arriving at the start of the New Year. The models are indicating that our hot, desert low pressure system will give way to a broad trough of much cooler low pressure arriving from the north. Hence, while temperatures should increase into the mid 30s C/80s F across much of the area, with the highest temperatures occurring this Friday Erev Rosh HaShanah (New Year), summer may just be a hot memory of the past by next week's end. In fact, light showers may accompany the initial change, and then more steady showers as Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) approaches.

Of course, the words ‘unusual’ and ‘unprecedented’ should have real meaning, and not be used lightly. The word unusual means: not usual, common or ordinary; uncommon. The word unprecedented means: without previous occurrence, never before known or experienced, unexampled or unparalleled.

To determine whether the number of hot days and the number of those sick are indeed unusual and unprecedented, one needs to test for statistical significance. When we make such a test, we are looking to see that the events or efforts we're making — and the resultant changes in outcomes — are truly unusual, and not just due to random chance. Of course, we need to define the time period over which we look at the data.

In regard to our string of hot days, we'd test not just the maximum temperature on any particular day, but the number of consecutive days with extreme temperatures, versus the number of days with extreme temperatures in the past. With regard to the coronavirus, we'd check not just that a relatively high number of deaths occurred in one day, but how many days this has occurred; thus confirming that this is a pandemic, not just a passing event.

While the percentage of those who have died from the coronavirus in recent memory is unusually high, these unfortunate deaths can be compared to those of previous pandemics. The string of very hot days has probably been unusual, but it can be compared to similarly hot periods in earth's history. Most of us, though, can't remember these earlier events and thus, they are probably unusual in recent history.

The question is: what can we do now to change our current infection rate and increasingly warm world?

In regard to the latter, there are those who argue that humankind has very little to do with changes in earth's climate (just look at the graph in the link above that shows large variations in temperature occurred well in the past). While one can say that humankind had very little to do with past changes in climate, it is more difficult to claim that our warming world is simply part of natural variability (based on numerically modeled sensitivity to increased greenhouse gases). Even scientific skeptics admit that there is at least low sensitivity to increasing concentrations of climate gases. Regardless, small changes in average world temperatures can underlie more dangerous regional climate sensitivities that can lead, for example, to our most recent scorching heat wave and terrible fires.

What can we do about it? Reduce carbon dioxide and methane gases by increasing the use of renewable energy sources while improving energy efficiency (methods are also available to reduce methane releases from oil and gas production as well as from agriculture.

And the coronavirus? Lock downs, social distancing, and the wearing of masks seems to be the suggested and useful approach. In fact, lock downs have vastly slowed the transmission of the virus, while social distancing and wearing masks have also helped. In fact, here in Efrat most people wear masks and many keep their distance from others; hence, our infection rate is still very low.

However, Israel's overall infection rate is skyrocketing, and this has led to a new lock down.

The lock down approach, however, brings a problem with what comes after it. While the current plan proposes to follow the lock down with a graduated reopening, I really can't see how we'll end up anywhere else but back where we are now. The simple reason being that some appreciable fraction of Israelis generally don't follow the rules, and even if the majority do so, that leaves plenty of people who either won't wear masks, or wear them improperly (below the nose, even in doctors offices!), and plenty who will still congregate in parties (and this includes both our citizens and representatives).

Hence, I would adopt a different approach: recommendations that will allow the economy to continue to function. The government should publish a list of suggestions for reducing the infection rate and for protecting the more vulnerable among us. This will allow individuals to determine their own accepted level of risk.

I believe that those who are inclined to protect themselves will for the most part remain healthy — while those who are not will eventually get sick. If enough people get sick, they and their acquaintances are more likely to take the virus seriously, hopefully minimizing future infections. Then, the overall infection rate will drop and some localized areas may even develop a general immunity. It’s probable that the government would have to set up field hospitals to treat the expected overflow of patients. And because there won't be enough doctors and nurses to care for the expected sick, medics and others will need to be trained.

Unfortunately, I don't see any better way out of this. It seems people get the leadership they deserve, and the leadership gets the people who elected them. When it comes to the coronavirus, we’ve simply been a failure — which is why I suggest not making things worse by ruining the economy as well.

While we seem to be off to an inauspicious start to the New Year, this is still a time for change and even good tidings. We have just celebrated the wedding of my nephew to a young woman from New York. I am proud of them both and what they did together to make the day happen. Coming from different countries and even different Jewish backgrounds, this marriage, like all others, raises the importance of good communication.

Family Wedding [Photo courtesy the family]

Rabbi Elazar R. Muskin noted on this week’s parsha, Nitzavim-Vayeilech, that "Moshe went out and spoke these words to all of Israel (Deut. 31:1).” This indicates that Moshe went and spoke to each of the tribes, individually. Moshe understood the importance of communication and sought to emphasize that the Torah is for each of us. The emphasis was on communication at the individual level — and this is certainly a necessity in marriage itself.

I have learned from my wife, Rachel, that communication between husband and wife is not necessarily as easy or as straightforward as that between Moshe and the Twelve Tribes. The reason is simple: men and women differ from each other in their responses to events. For example, a woman tends to speak out her feelings while men tend to speak out their successes. A woman might want empathy while the man might want congratulations.

Further, if a man can't solve a problem, he may tend to say little (or nothing at all). This may result in the wife erroneously thinking that the husband is not interested in the issue. If the wife criticizes him, he may think that his wife doesn't notice his good points. Both need to make an effort to overcome these marriage hurdles.

We also sometimes see a man who does a good deed and believes he has saved the world; yet if a woman does a good deed, he may think she is just being a good wife. Many men can easily count the number of good deeds they do in a day, for instance around the house — while a married woman with children may not have enough fingers or toes to count all she does. Some men take great pride in doing a single chore, like setting the table; and even seem to find it so tiring that they often need to rest in the middle of it. Their wives may wonder why he can't set the table, fill a bottle, and change a diaper at the same time?

My advice for new husbands is to try to listen and to be supportive at the same time. For the new wife, I would suggest it sometimes helps to not assume your husband is smart enough to catch things the first time you say them; you’ll then be surprised and can give him a ‘high five’ if he does.

Rav Joseph Soloveitchik, writing on the Sheva Brachot recited at a wedding, questions what is the relationship between the personal happiness of the bride and groom, and the messianic era as detailed in the prophetic passage from which they are drawn (Jer. 33: 10-11)?

It is that a successful marriage requires more than simply caring for each other, but also empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. The goal is to move from being two separate people getting married to becoming a new entity of one married couple. The Rabbi suggests that just as two become one, the couple should begin to see the marriage as part of a community. By identifying with the broader community, the husband and wife will share its ups and downs and will hasten the coming of the Messiah.

A word of advice to the new couple on the practical level — husband: with regard to your wife, don't let her do the tasks you don't want to do; to the wife: with regard to your husband, remember that he, like you, wants to be a better person. By being part of the community of the Jewish people, you have an opportunity through your efforts — and, G-d willing, through your children's efforts — to change the world!

[Please note: Dr. Lynn's complete and accurate weather forecast can be found here. Editor]

Dr. Barry Lynn (Photo courtesy the author)

Dr. Lynn is a lecturer at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Earth Sciences Department. He is also CEO of Weather It Is, LTD, a company that specializes in reducing weather risk. Click here to read more of this writer’s work in The Jerusalem Herald.

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