Changing a Nature

The record-shattering temperatures in the 60s and 70s that settled over the Northeast during the past few weeks left many of the area’s residents wondering what happened to winter.

On Sunday, the calendar stated that we are already in the middle of Teves, corresponding to the end of December, yet it felt like late spring or early fall. Winter coats were left hanging in closets while scarves, gloves and earmuffs were nowhere in sight. Heating systems in homes and offices remained closed; windows were thrown wide open.

Parts of Europe are experiencing similar weather patterns, and global energy markets are feeling the pinch. With the number of degrees — both Fahrenheit and Celsius — surprisingly high, the reduced demand for natural gas has helped bring prices to their lowest levels in two decades.

That doesn’t mean New Yorkers won’t get their share of snow this season; during the past two winters, both of which saw more than 50 inches of snow, most of it fell during January and February. But the unusually warm temperatures left old-timers struggling to recall the last time they had such enjoyable weather.

Meanwhile, across the country, New Mexico and West Texas — areas that typically enjoy mild weather this time of year — were blanketed by heavy snowfall, and the South suffered a series of devastating tornadoes.

In what some found surprising, most scientists — at least those being quoted by media outlets — declined to say that these strange weather patterns are being caused by what they refer to as “global warming.”

The theory that greenhouse gas pollution is causing temperatures to rise worldwide — a claim that prompted a historic, albeit toothless, international pact signed in Paris two weeks ago — is, in itself, highly controversial. Even if one would accept this conjecture as fact, there is ample reason to doubt that it is the primary threat facing mankind.

While there is a very strong link between the conduct of mortals and weather conditions — particularly when it comes to droughts and rainfall, as we recite in Krias Shema — this is in regard to the spiritual actions of mankind.

But it seems that even the foremost proponents of the global warming agenda were hesitant to make a direct connection between their theory and the current balmy weather.

Instead, forecasters chose to credit, at least in part, a relatively common phenomenon called El Nino. While this term is used for a diverse range of meteorological happenings — leading to considerable confusion for laymen trying to decipher it — it reportedly has to do with a periodic warming of the Pacific Ocean near the equator. This is said to be pushing the jet stream northward, bottling up the cold arctic air that often flows down into the U.S. from Canada.

Regardless of the technical cause of the unusual weather patterns being experienced, there certainly must be a lesson for us to learn from it.

One possibility is that we often look at our own attributes, including our shortcomings, as unchangeable facts. “This is just the way I am,” we tell ourselves and others.

No matter how frigid or mild the days, weeks and months to come will turn out to be, the remarkable weather we experienced over the past few weeks reminds us that yes, it is possible for what we consider teva — and is often referred to as “nature” — to change. While we don’t know why the Ribbono shel Olam decided to give us such a warm few weeks, as the Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk teaches us, man was created l’shabeir es hateva — to break what is his nature.

This is far from an easy task. Changing an attribute is one of the most difficult things in the world, and tzaddikim said that it is easier to learn all of Shas than to change a single middah. But, ultimately, Hashem would not have entrusted us with such a mission if we would not have the ability to accomplish it.

This week we learn about the birth of a mortal who reached unimaginably lofty levels of spirituality, whom Hashem sent to lead us out of Mitzrayim and who ascended to Shamayim to receive the Torah on our behalf.

Yet according to the Baal Shem Tov, Moshe Rabbeinu was born with terrible middos. It was through tremendous personal effort that he was able to eradicate them and achieve the loftiest levels of goodness, holiness and purity.

No matter how entrenched we may be in our “nature,” each and every one of us can warm our hearts and change our lives for the better. Unlike the weather, this change is entirely up to us.

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