In the Rose Garden on October 5, President Obama lauded the Paris Agreement — an agreement of 74 countries to decrease greenhouse emissions — saying, “If we follow through on the commitments that this Paris agreement embodies, history may well judge it as a turning point for our planet.” Really? Or is Obama just engaging in some desperate straw-grabbing for a positive legacy as he pivots towards the permanent exit door of the White House?
Ironically, a news headline made rounds the day following Obama’s somewhat bombastic announcement — the agreement was not submitted to Congress for approval, and has already been subject to a temporary block by the Supreme Court —that must have knocked some fresh air out of his lungs: “Fossil fuel methane emissions are twice what is being reported.” Analyzing the isotopic composition of methane in thousands of air samples from around the globe, Stefan Schwietzke of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration asserted that although fossil fuel methane emissions seem to be twice what official reports show (at a whopping 200,000,000 tons annually!) — the real culprit behind surging methane levels is wetlands and rice paddies. Apparently, innumerable microbes relish residing in warm, tropical environs. And they produce methane for a living. Schwietzke distinguished fossil fuel from microbial emissions based on isotopic signature. Fuel methane is rich in carbon-13 whereas microbial emissions are rich in carbon-12.
In any event, seeing that methane is the second biggest culprit in global warming (CO2 is the heavyweight champion) — the ultimate bane of the Obama administration — this scientific report could not have come as welcome news.
Another one of Obama’s (pipe) dreams early in his career as Commander in Chief was what he called the “Russian Reset.” As if the symbolic red button that Clinton presented to Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, in 2009, could have just been pressed, turning the U.S. and Russia into the best of friends. Parenthetically, that red button had the word “perezagruzka” on it as well. The engraver apparently thought it’s the Russian equivalent of reset, but it actually means “overload.”
Overload may well be most accurate in describing the current situation between Russia and the West, as perhaps best expressed in yet another headline splash on Oct. 6: “Russia launches massive nuclear war training exercise that involves 40 million people.” Putin also unveiled enormous, underground bunkers capable of sheltering Moscow’s population of 12,000,000.
What is the official, government justification for such massive, wide-scale training exercises? “Schizophrenics from America are sharpening nuclear weapons for Moscow,” declared the Russian Defense Ministry-run Zvezda news network, prior to the nationwide drill’s launch, effectively proclaiming to the Russian people: Nuclear war with the West could be imminent.
Now, might the sudden Russian “panic” and show of supreme preparedness have something to do with the fact that the U.S. completely cut off talks with Russia regarding the ever-escalating crisis in Syria in the wake of Russia’s bombing of a hospital in the rebel-controlled eastern section of Aleppo? Maybe. Maybe not. What is clear, though, is that each passing day seems to be thrusting the entire world into an ever-deepening state of chaos and danger.
And what are we Jews doing while all this is transpiring? Davening that Hashem — the Orchestrator of all events both large and small — should seal us for a favorable judgment. That we should have a year of peace, health, happiness. Good things. And we are also entering our sukkos. Flimsy dwellings whose protective capacity is laughable in contrast to steel-and-concrete-reinforced safe rooms, let alone gigantic, underground bunkers.
But that’s the whole point isn’t it? A sukkah, says the Zohar Hakadosh, is tzilusa d’meheimnusa — the shelter of emunah. Inside the sukkah, we are enveloped by the same protective force that was provided for us through the ananei hakavod in the Midbar. Staggering mountains, deep chasms, colossal serpents and scorpions — all these and more represented the imminent dangers that constantly surrounded us in the Midbar. And Hashem’s protection — to which He gave the flimsiest physical manifestation, nothing but a mixture of water and air — kept all those dangers at bay. Traversing terrain that should have consumed us all, we emerged unscathed.
Every year, when we enter our flimsy sukkos — the temporary dwelling, as Chazal define it — we reoccupy that shelter of emunah. Exiting the pivotal prayer and introspection days of Rosh Hashanah, Aseres Yemei Teshuvah and Yom Kippur — we enter into zman simchaseinu. The time which is characterized by the enthralling, exultant awareness that no matter what may be raging around us, we don’t have to be subject to its crash and gush. We hope and continue to pray that Hashem sealed this year for a pleasant, peaceful fate. But —whatever may ultimately evolve — we are infused with tremendous joy because we occupy a different realm: the shelter of emunah.