This reflection is part of the ongoing Forest Hills Haftorah Series. The rest of the content can be found here: .

(above: The prophet Yoel, with a quote from the second chapter of his oracles.)

Every single one of the prophetic oracles that our prophets of yore left us is dramatic, urgent, and memorable. (If it was bland and boring, it would not have been eternalized into the TaNaKh-collection, preserved for thousands of years unto this very day!)

But dramatic as they all are, many of them start with even a heightened moment of drama and intensity.

One such prophet is Yoel, of unknown time and unknown place!

But before I share with you his opening words, take a moment to picture this:

You have a wonderful view of the horizon; perhaps you are looking out from the edge of high cliff, maybe somewhere in the Galilee. As you enjoy and soak in the fresh air, you survey the land below and way off to the distance, enjoying the view of the beautiful rolling hills, the greenery, sunshine and blue skies...

And then, way off in the horizon, something catches your eye. It almost looks like a cloud. And before your very eyes, it gets bigger... and bigger... and bigger, growing at an increasingly impossible rate.

Before you know it, the sun itself is darkened.

If you were in said situation, the only reasonable things to do would be to get indoors as fast as you can, close all of the windows... and pray; For short of YHWH himself intervening, there is nothing that can stop what's coming, nor even slow it down.

Yoel's opening declaration in his oracles is terrifying, as he tells us that the above experience is right around the corner, the likes of which has never been seen: (Even though Yoel appears to be speaking in past tense, he is probably using what is called the prophetic-past-tense, in which a prophet speaks of things in the future that are so certain that they are described as if they they had a already happened. This is a popular rhetorical technique amongst the prophets.)

(א) דְּבַר־יְהוָה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר הָיָ֔ה אֶל־יוֹאֵ֖ל בֶּן־פְּתוּאֵֽל׃ (ב) שִׁמְעוּ־זֹאת֙ הַזְּקֵנִ֔ים וְהַֽאֲזִ֔ינוּ כֹּ֖ל יוֹשְׁבֵ֣י הָאָ֑רֶץ הֶהָ֤יְתָה זֹּאת֙ בִּֽימֵיכֶ֔ם וְאִ֖ם בִּימֵ֥י אֲבֹֽתֵיכֶֽם׃ (ג) עָלֶ֖יהָ לִבְנֵיכֶ֣ם סַפֵּ֑רוּ וּבְנֵיכֶם֙ לִבְנֵיהֶ֔ם וּבְנֵיהֶ֖ם לְד֥וֹר אַחֵֽר׃ (ד) יֶ֤תֶר הַגָּזָם֙ אָכַ֣ל הָֽאַרְבֶּ֔ה וְיֶ֥תֶר הָאַרְבֶּ֖ה אָכַ֣ל הַיָּ֑לֶק וְיֶ֣תֶר הַיֶּ֔לֶק אָכַ֖ל הֶחָסִֽיל׃

(2) Listen to this, O elders! Give ear, all inhabitants of the land!

Has the like of this ever happened in your days? Or in the days of your fathers?

(3) Tell of it to your children! And let your children tell theirs, and their children the next generation!

(4) What the [[gazam]-locust] has left, the [[arbeh]-locust] has devoured; What the [[arbeh]-locust] has left, the [[yahlek]-locust] has devoured; And what the [[yahlek]-locust] has left, the [[hasil]-locust] has devoured.

The translation to the last line is one of those which is hard to render in English, for in the Hebrew, Yoel draws on four different synonyms for locust, each word highlighting a different one of the locust's characteristics. (Some have suggested that they refer to locusts at different stages of their development.)

Gazam - From a root which means to cut off;

Arbeh - From rabbah, to multiply or become numerous;

Yahlek - From a root which means to lick up; devour;

Hasil - From a root which means to consume.

Here are two more translations of the last line for comparison. The first, from The Good News Bible, which is actually, less a "translation" and more of a "thought-for-thought" interpretation of the Bible. And the second, from The Scriptures 2009, which tries to be much more word-for-word:

Joel 1:4:

GNB: Swarm after swarm of locusts settled on the crops; what one swarm left, the next swarm devoured.

TS2009: What the gnawing locust left the swarming locust has eaten, and what the swarming locust left the crawling locust has eaten, and what the crawling locust left the consuming locust has eaten.

In an agricultural-driven society, this was a very real, and possibly constant fear, which is evident in how often the authors of the works in the TaNaKh draw on locust-imagery. In the proverbs-collection, there is even a statement that locusts, while small, are one of the wisest of creatures, for reasons directly tied to their swarming tendencies:

(כד) אַרְבָּ֣עָה הֵ֭ם קְטַנֵּי־אָ֑רֶץ וְ֝הֵ֗מָּה חֲכָמִ֥ים מְחֻכָּמִֽים׃ (כה) הַ֭נְּמָלִים עַ֣ם לֹא־עָ֑ז וַיָּכִ֖ינוּ בַקַּ֣יִץ לַחְמָֽם׃ (כו) שְׁ֭פַנִּים עַ֣ם לֹא־עָצ֑וּם וַיָּשִׂ֖ימוּ בַסֶּ֣לַע בֵּיתָֽם׃ (כז) מֶ֭לֶךְ אֵ֣ין לָאַרְבֶּ֑ה וַיֵּצֵ֖א חֹצֵ֣ץ כֻּלּֽוֹ׃ (כח) שְׂ֭מָמִית בְּיָדַ֣יִם תְּתַפֵּ֑שׂ וְ֝הִ֗יא בְּהֵ֣יכְלֵי מֶֽלֶךְ׃ (פ)

(24) Four are among the tiniest on earth, Yet they are the wisest of the wise:

(25) Ants are a folk without power, Yet they prepare food for themselves in summer;

(26) The badger is a folk without strength, Yet it makes its home in the rock;

(27) There is no king of the [[arbeh]-locusts], but they all march forth in formation;

(28) You can catch the lizard in your hand, Yet it is found in royal palaces.

And then of course, remember the Exodus narrative? The locust-swarm was one of the very plagues that YHWH had Moshe threaten the Egyptian Pharaoh with, when the Pharaoh continued to refuse to free Israel from servitude:

(ג) וַיָּבֹ֨א מֹשֶׁ֣ה וְאַהֲרֹן֮ אֶל־פַּרְעֹה֒ וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ אֵלָ֗יו כֹּֽה־אָמַ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֱלֹהֵ֣י הָֽעִבְרִ֔ים עַד־מָתַ֣י מֵאַ֔נְתָּ לֵעָנֹ֖ת מִפָּנָ֑י שַׁלַּ֥ח עַמִּ֖י וְיַֽעַבְדֻֽנִי׃

(ד) כִּ֛י אִם־מָאֵ֥ן אַתָּ֖ה לְשַׁלֵּ֣חַ אֶת־עַמִּ֑י הִנְנִ֨י מֵבִ֥יא מָחָ֛ר אַרְבֶּ֖ה בִּגְבֻלֶֽךָ׃

(ה) וְכִסָּה֙ אֶת־עֵ֣ין הָאָ֔רֶץ וְלֹ֥א יוּכַ֖ל לִרְאֹ֣ת אֶת־הָאָ֑רֶץ וְאָכַ֣ל ׀ אֶת־יֶ֣תֶר הַפְּלֵטָ֗ה הַנִּשְׁאֶ֤רֶת לָכֶם֙ מִן־הַבָּרָ֔ד וְאָכַל֙ אֶת־כָּל־הָעֵ֔ץ הַצֹּמֵ֥חַ לָכֶ֖ם מִן־הַשָּׂדֶֽה׃

(ו) וּמָלְא֨וּ בָתֶּ֜יךָ וּבָתֵּ֣י כָל־עֲבָדֶיךָ֮ וּבָתֵּ֣י כָל־מִצְרַיִם֒ אֲשֶׁ֨ר לֹֽא־רָא֤וּ אֲבֹתֶ֙יךָ֙ וַאֲב֣וֹת אֲבֹתֶ֔יךָ מִיּ֗וֹם הֱיוֹתָם֙ עַל־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה עַ֖ד הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וַיִּ֥פֶן וַיֵּצֵ֖א מֵעִ֥ם פַּרְעֹֽה׃

(3) Then Moshe and Aharon came to Pharaoh and they said to him:

"Thus says YHWH, the Elohim of the Hebrews!"


(4)For if you refuse to send forth my people, then Look! I shall bring tomorrow the [[arbeh-locusts] in your borders!

(5) And it shall cover the eye of the land, such that one cannot see the land! And it shall eat the leftovers of that which survived, that which is remaining to you after the hail-storm. And it shall eat every tree which sprouts for you from the field.

(6) And they shall fill your homes, and the homes of your servants, and the homes of all Egyptians, the like of which your fathers, and your fathers' fathers have never seen before, ever since they have been on the ground until this very day!

I find it noteworthy that both Moshe and Yoel describe the impending plague as being such that had never before been seen.

As terrifying as locust-swarms could be, it was certainly understandable that any Egyptian who hears this threat would begin to panic, and even to pressure their own Pharaoh to capitulate:

(ז) וַיֹּאמְרוּ֩ עַבְדֵ֨י פַרְעֹ֜ה אֵלָ֗יו עַד־מָתַי֙ יִהְיֶ֨ה זֶ֥ה לָ֙נוּ֙ לְמוֹקֵ֔שׁ שַׁלַּח֙ אֶת־הָ֣אֲנָשִׁ֔ים וְיַֽעַבְד֖וּ אֶת־יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֵיהֶ֑ם הֲטֶ֣רֶם תֵּדַ֔ע כִּ֥י אָבְדָ֖ה מִצְרָֽיִם׃

(7) And Pharaoh's courtiers said to him,

"For how long will this one be a snare to us? Send out the men, that they can serve YHWH their Elohim! Do you not realize that Egypt is a goner!?

We have to just take a moment to appreciate the extent of the Egyptian people's fear so as to pressure their Pharaoh like this. Consider this excerpt from

Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs were the ancient kings of Egypt. Pharaohs were considered one of the more important of all the Egyptian gods. While a pharaoh was ruling, he took on the "incarnation" of the god Horus and the son of Re. Once the pharaoh died, he was identified with the god Osiris, the god of the underworld.

Not only were Pharaohs gods, but they were incarnations of Horus, a god believed to be as expansive as the sky itself, one of his eyes the moon, and the other the sun!

It would either take an inhuman amount of courage to stand up to such a figure, or else a terror of something that is of such an intensity that one would stop at nothing to avoid it.

Yoel even takes things further than did Moshe!; for in his case, these are not just any old normal locusts, but some kind of strange horrific mutation:

(ו) כִּֽי־גוֹי֙ עָלָ֣ה עַל־אַרְצִ֔י עָצ֖וּם וְאֵ֣ין מִסְפָּ֑ר שִׁנָּיו֙ שִׁנֵּ֣י אַרְיֵ֔ה וּֽמְתַלְּע֥וֹת לָבִ֖יא לֽוֹ׃

(6) For this swarm shall invade my land, so vast beyond counting; Its teeth the teeth of lions, and fangs of a lioness.

If you've lasted this long and are still with us, but are starting to think you might not last much longer if all of this talk of locusts continues, let me assure you that this is all in the first of four total chapters of Yoel; and things do get better.

Much better.

In fact, in this week's Haftorah we get to read of salvation; but talk of salvation is only intelligible and meaningful if one knows and appreciates that which one is being saved from. The greater the threat, the more significant the rescue.

And just in case the pictures and the quotes from Yoel and Moshe above haven't quite gotten the point across yet, here's an episode from a "What If...?" series I found online:

Sorry for any nightmares! But I think if we don't appreciate the horror of the image that Yoel, or Moshe were trying to convey, then we really miss out on the full range of the intended emotional impact the authors of the works in the TaNaKh try to evoke within us, and then we ultimately miss out on the most meaningful TaNaKh-study experience we could have.

But let me tell you a wonderful secret about the prophets of ancient Israel and Judea; If, as your reading, things seem to get more and more bleak; more and more horrific and unbearable; just keep going!

For if a prophet seems to be so committed to portraying doom-and-gloom, it's all only a "set-up" for what will come after.

This is something I always try to remind myself of for whenever I need my own little boost or divine comfort. And there's one line from the Israelite and Judean collection of prayer-poems, as powerful as it is concise, which never fails to lift my spirits when needed. (You might recognize it if you regularly recite the introductory psalms in traditional Jewish settings.)

(ו) בָּ֭עֶרֶב יָלִ֥ין בֶּ֗כִי וְלַבֹּ֥קֶר רִנָּֽה׃

(6) Weeping might tarry throughout the night; But in the morning, shouts of joy!!!!

I've even wondered if this profound lesson was imbedded by the Almighty into the very fabric of the cosmos itself! Could this be why the very beginning of Genesis, we are reminded again and again that morning follows evening?

וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם אֶחָֽד׃ (פ)

And there was evening and there was morning, a first day.

As dark as things might ever get - and remember, in this case we're even speaking of a literal darkness - dawn is right around the corner.

Ultimately, YHWH-Almighty is in control; and one of his most important roles - which we have a right to demand of him - is to be there for us, to redeem us completely, to be a shield for us from dangers.

The Herald of Zion was intending to be taken seriously when he said the following:

(ד) גֹּאֲלֵ֕נוּ יְהוָ֥ה צְבָא֖וֹת שְׁמ֑וֹ קְד֖וֹשׁ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

(4) Our-Redeemer-YHWH-of-Hosts is his name; The Holy One of Israel.

One of the very titles of the Almighty is Our-Redeemer! So if there is ever a moment when Israel is still in need of being redeemed, the story is not yet over.

And so as disturbing as all of the locust imagery in the beginning of the oracles of Yoel can be, you only have to get to the second chapter to get to the great redemption moment.

But before getting there, Yoel first tells us what we have to do in order to arouse YHWH's mercy, for we have a part to play as well. For while it's true that YHWH's love for Israel is unbounded, unconditional and uncompromising, we sometimes send him the wrong message; that we don't care for his kindnesses, we don't value, need, or even want his protection and his presence.

And so Yoel gives very clear, step-by-step instructions as to how Israelites can go about repairing their eternal relationship with the ever-patient Almighty:

(יב) וְגַם־עַתָּה֙ נְאֻם־יְהוָ֔ה שֻׁ֥בוּ עָדַ֖י בְּכָל־לְבַבְכֶ֑ם וּבְצ֥וֹם וּבְבְכִ֖י וּבְמִסְפֵּֽד׃ (יג) וְקִרְע֤וּ לְבַבְכֶם֙ וְאַל־בִּגְדֵיכֶ֔ם וְשׁ֖וּבוּ אֶל־יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֑ם כִּֽי־חַנּ֤וּן וְרַחוּם֙ ה֔וּא אֶ֤רֶךְ אַפַּ֙יִם֙ וְרַב־חֶ֔סֶד וְנִחָ֖ם עַל־הָרָעָֽה׃ (יד) מִ֥י יוֹדֵ֖עַ יָשׁ֣וּב וְנִחָ֑ם וְהִשְׁאִ֤יר אַֽחֲרָיו֙ בְּרָכָ֔ה מִנְחָ֣ה וָנֶ֔סֶךְ לַיהוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃ (פ) (טו) תִּקְע֥וּ שׁוֹפָ֖ר בְּצִיּ֑וֹן קַדְּשׁוּ־צ֖וֹם קִרְא֥וּ עֲצָרָֽה׃ (טז) אִסְפוּ־עָ֞ם קַדְּשׁ֤וּ קָהָל֙ קִבְצ֣וּ זְקֵנִ֔ים אִסְפוּ֙ עֽוֹלָלִ֔ים וְיֹנְקֵ֖י שָׁדָ֑יִם יֵצֵ֤א חָתָן֙ מֵֽחֶדְר֔וֹ וְכַלָּ֖ה מֵחֻפָּתָֽהּ׃ (יז) בֵּ֤ין הָאוּלָם֙ וְלַמִּזְבֵּ֔חַ יִבְכּוּ֙ הַכֹּ֣הֲנִ֔ים מְשָׁרְתֵ֖י יְהוָ֑ה וְֽיֹאמְר֞וּ ח֧וּסָה יְהוָ֣ה עַל־עַמֶּ֗ךָ וְאַל־תִּתֵּ֨ן נַחֲלָתְךָ֤ לְחֶרְפָּה֙ לִמְשָׁל־בָּ֣ם גּוֹיִ֔ם לָ֚מָּה יֹאמְר֣וּ בָֽעַמִּ֔ים אַיֵּ֖ה אֱלֹהֵיהֶֽם׃

(12) “Yet even now”—says YHWH—

“Turn back to Me with all your hearts, And with fasting, weeping, and lamenting.

(13) Rend your hearts rather than your garments, And turn back to YHWH your elohim.

For he is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in kindness, And renouncing punishment.


(15) Blow a horn in Zion!

Solemnize a fast!

Proclaim an assembly!

(16) Gather the people!

Bid the congregation purify themselves! Bring together the old!

Gather the babes and the sucklings at the breast!

Let the bridegroom come out of his chamber, The bride from her canopied couch. (17) Between the portico and the altar!

Let the priests, YHWH's ministers, weep And say: “Oh, spare your people, YHWH! Let not Your possession become a mockery, To be taunted by nations! Let not the peoples say, ‘Where is their elohim?’”

Sometimes it's hard to know the right course of action; Though in this case, Yoel could not be any clearer:

  1. Blow a horn in Zion;
  2. Fast;
  3. Gather together in community;
  4. Purify selves;
  5. Turn with all of our hearts to YHWH.

And in doing so, what, as a result, will happen? He tells us that, too.

This whole passage is worth reading and cherishing. But I highlighted the moments that I found to be either particularly relevant or beautiful.

(יח) וַיְקַנֵּ֥א יְהוָ֖ה לְאַרְצ֑וֹ וַיַּחְמֹ֖ל עַל־עַמּֽוֹ׃ (יט) וַיַּ֨עַן יְהוָ֜ה וַיֹּ֣אמֶר לְעַמּ֗וֹ הִנְנִ֨י שֹׁלֵ֤חַ לָכֶם֙ אֶת־הַדָּגָן֙ וְהַתִּיר֣וֹשׁ וְהַיִּצְהָ֔ר וּשְׂבַעְתֶּ֖ם אֹת֑וֹ וְלֹא־אֶתֵּ֨ן אֶתְכֶ֥ם ע֛וֹד חֶרְפָּ֖ה בַּגּוֹיִֽם׃ (כ) וְֽאֶת־הַצְּפוֹנִ֞י אַרְחִ֣יק מֵעֲלֵיכֶ֗ם וְהִדַּחְתִּיו֮ אֶל־אֶ֣רֶץ צִיָּ֣ה וּשְׁמָמָה֒ אֶת־פָּנָ֗יו אֶל־הַיָּם֙ הַקַּדְמֹנִ֔י וְסֹפ֖וֹ אֶל־הַיָּ֣ם הָאַֽחֲר֑וֹן וְעָלָ֣ה בָאְשׁ֗וֹ וְתַ֙עַל֙ צַחֲנָת֔וֹ כִּ֥י הִגְדִּ֖יל לַעֲשֽׂוֹת׃ (כא) אַל־תִּֽירְאִ֖י אֲדָמָ֑ה גִּ֣ילִי וּשְׂמָ֔חִי כִּֽי־הִגְדִּ֥יל יְהוָ֖ה לַעֲשֽׂוֹת׃ (כב) אַל־תִּֽירְאוּ֙ בַּהֲמ֣וֹת שָׂדַ֔י כִּ֥י דָשְׁא֖וּ נְא֣וֹת מִדְבָּ֑ר כִּֽי־עֵץ֙ נָשָׂ֣א פִרְי֔וֹ תְּאֵנָ֥ה וָגֶ֖פֶן נָתְנ֥וּ חֵילָֽם׃ (כג) וּבְנֵ֣י צִיּ֗וֹן גִּ֤ילוּ וְשִׂמְחוּ֙ בַּיהוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם כִּֽי־נָתַ֥ן לָכֶ֛ם אֶת־הַמּוֹרֶ֖ה לִצְדָקָ֑ה וַיּ֣וֹרֶד לָכֶ֗ם גֶּ֛שֶׁם מוֹרֶ֥ה וּמַלְק֖וֹשׁ בָּרִאשֽׁוֹן׃ (כד) וּמָלְא֥וּ הַגֳּרָנ֖וֹת בָּ֑ר וְהֵשִׁ֥יקוּ הַיְקָבִ֖ים תִּיר֥וֹשׁ וְיִצְהָֽר׃ (כה) וְשִׁלַּמְתִּ֤י לָכֶם֙ אֶת־הַשָּׁנִ֔ים אֲשֶׁר֙ אָכַ֣ל הָֽאַרְבֶּ֔ה הַיֶּ֖לֶק וְהֶחָסִ֣יל וְהַגָּזָ֑ם חֵילִי֙ הַגָּד֔וֹל אֲשֶׁ֥ר שִׁלַּ֖חְתִּי בָּכֶֽם׃ (כו) וַאֲכַלְתֶּ֤ם אָכוֹל֙ וְשָׂב֔וֹעַ וְהִלַּלְתֶּ֗ם אֶת־שֵׁ֤ם יְהוָה֙ אֱלֹ֣הֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֥ה עִמָּכֶ֖ם לְהַפְלִ֑יא וְלֹא־יֵבֹ֥שׁוּ עַמִּ֖י לְעוֹלָֽם׃ (כז) וִידַעְתֶּ֗ם כִּ֣י בְקֶ֤רֶב יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ אָ֔נִי וַאֲנִ֛י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֖ם וְאֵ֣ין ע֑וֹד וְלֹא־יֵבֹ֥שׁוּ עַמִּ֖י לְעוֹלָֽם׃ (ס)

(18) Then YHWH was roused On behalf of his land And had compassion Upon his people.


“I will grant you the new grain, The new wine, and the new oil, And you shall have them in abundance. Nevermore will I let you be A mockery among the nations.


Fear not, O soil, rejoice and be glad! For YHWH has wrought great deeds! (22) Fear not, O beasts of the field, For the pastures in the wilderness Are clothed with grass. The trees have borne their fruit; Fig tree and vine Have yielded their strength. (23) O children of Zion, be glad, Rejoice in the YHWH your elohim! For He has given you the early rain in [His] kindness, Now He makes the rain fall [as] formerly— The early rain and the late— (24) And threshing floors shall be piled with grain, And vats shall overflow with new wine and oil. (25)

“I will repay you for the years Consumed by [[arbeh]-locusts] and [[yelek]-locusts], By [[hasil]-locusts] and [[gazim]-locusts], the great swarm that I let loose against you.

(26) And you shall eat your fill And praise the name of YHWH your elohim who dealt so wondrously with you—

My people shall be shamed no more.

(27) And you shall know That I am in the midst of Israel: That I YHWH am your elohim And there is no other. And My people shall be shamed no more!”

Note how not only is Israel here promised an abundance of blessings (grain, grass, fruit, grain...), but what Yoel describes is a complete reversal of every single hardship that he warned about, just one chapter ago.

I read a really nice thought on this in the Pulpit Bible Commentary, a work published in 1897(!!!) that I think is worth sharing; That in the above passage we see YHWH bringing about a Twofold Restoration.

1. The restoration of the physical (i.e., agricultural) riches that were lost as a result of this beyond-devastating locust swarm. But, possibly more importantly:

2. Restoration of the privilege of true worship and communion, as can be seen in verses 26 and 27.

Here is how the commentary puts it:

Loving fellowship with the infinite Father is also another privilege which we have lost. The restoration of this is the consummation of blessedness. "In thy presence is fulness of joy." This last restoration is the most urgent and the most glorious one. The restoration of lost material mercies to a man, community, or country, is a Divine work for which gratitude should be cherished and practically exemplified; but the restoration of lost religious privileges, the true worship of God and true fellowship with him, is the transcendent restoration. When this is realized, the world’s redemption is completed.

I love this statement - that restoration of material things is a divine work "For which gratitude should be cherished." Having something to be grateful for, and having the ability to express this gratitude to the Almighty, is truly such a gift in and of itself; and while the restored rain and health of the land is a cause for much joy and celebration, what's even greater is that this symbolizes a restored and repaired relationship between YHWH, the god of Israel on one hand, and the people of Israel on the other.

One of my favorite rabbinic traditions is reciting a paragraph from the 11th chapter of Deuteronomy:

(יג) וְהָיָ֗ה אִם־שָׁמֹ֤עַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ֙ אֶל־מִצְוֺתַ֔י אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י מְצַוֶּ֥ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם לְאַהֲבָ֞ה אֶת־יְהוָ֤ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶם֙ וּלְעָבְד֔וֹ בְּכָל־לְבַבְכֶ֖ם וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁכֶֽם׃ (יד) וְנָתַתִּ֧י מְטַֽר־אַרְצְכֶ֛ם בְּעִתּ֖וֹ יוֹרֶ֣ה וּמַלְק֑וֹשׁ וְאָסַפְתָּ֣ דְגָנֶ֔ךָ וְתִֽירֹשְׁךָ֖ וְיִצְהָרֶֽךָ׃ (טו) וְנָתַתִּ֛י עֵ֥שֶׂב בְּשָׂדְךָ֖ לִבְהֶמְתֶּ֑ךָ וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ וְשָׂבָֽעְתָּ׃

(13) And it shall be, if listening, you listen to my commandments that I command you all today; to love YHWH your elohim, and to serve him with all of your hearts and with every breath, (14) and I shall grant the rain of your land in its time; the early rain and the late rain; And you shall gather in your grain and your wine and your oil (15) and I shall grant grass in your fields for your animals. And you shall eat and be satiated.

Of course, it is unclear how, and if at all, any of the above applies today, for this statement is placed in a particular context; The Israelites just on the verge of entering entering their homeland, living as an autonomous people under the sovereignty of YHWH, who is living right their with them in their very midst.

I have heard some even claim that we should no longer feel bound to recite this regularly, for we "know" that there is not a correlation between obedience to YHWH and the weather around us. I even believe that certain Jewish prayer-books have removed this paragraph, or presented it as one amongst several possibilities for daily recitation.

But wait a second... is it so clear that this paragraph is irrelevant? What this paragraph emphasizes is that there is supposed to be a wholesome, triangular relationship between man, land, and god. If the connection between any of these three parties breaks down, the rest will not be far behind.

I think Yoel, as well as his Israelite audience truly appreciated, in ways that we should really take to heart, that human beings have real power and influence over the world around them. If nature was unkind, if the locusts were out of control, if the rain schedule was off; then it was time to engage in a serious cheshbon ha'nefesh, or collective accounting of themselves. How were they conducting themselves in their lives in ways which might have caused a breakdown in a healthy relationship between them as a people, their land, and their god? And what behavior changes were therefore incumbent upon them?

And I cannot help but think that there is real urgency that we try to reclaim this type of orientation to the world around us today.