In the wake of historic floods in Houston, Texas, we bring you an exclusive interview with Hurricane Harvey, offering us fascinating insights about the soul of a hurricane and its lessons for our lives.
SJ: How are you today, Harvey?
HARVEY: Harvey?! Where did you get that ridiculous name from?
SJ: That seems to be the name that scientists call you.
HARVEY: Scientists! Give me a break. What do scientists know about me that they feel they can coin me with some human name? Did they parent me?
SJ: Actually, scientists are perplexed about you and your cohorts. Years ago they tried taming you, but they have long given up hope. Now they focus on trying to track the way you form and move.
HARVEY: Exactly. They know nothing about me, yet they call me by their man-made name!
SJ: So what should I call you?
HARVEY: You may be more comfortable calling me an “act of nature,” but I am actually an “act of G-d” – even your insurance companies have acknowledged that…
SJ: Isn’t it somewhat arrogant to call yourself an act of G-d?
HARVEY: It’s even more arrogant for humans to label me by their human name.
SJ: Ok, please don’t be so touchy. Let’s get beyond semantics.
HARVEY: This isn’t semantics. If people would accept that they I am not their creation, but a tool of G-d’s, they would be able to begin to understand me, and perhaps even master me.
SJ: Let’s get back to the interview. How are you today?
HARVEY: Much calmer thank you. I had a rough week down south, and I feel relieved that my rage is finally subsiding.
SJ: Rage? Are you angry at something?
HARVEY: Not exactly angry. However, as you may have witnessed, I unintentionally did cause much devastation. People were killed by the torrential rains brought on by me. And I have driven fear into so many people’s hearts. I am deeply disturbed by all this.
SJ: Why does it disturb you?
HARVEY: Because the last thing I want to do is terrify people. That is why I granted you this interview to apologize publicly and perhaps help set the record straight.
SJ: But you understand that with all due respect to you and your apologies, you can’t reverse the damage done, and frankly the damage you are continuing to do as you travel northeast.
HARVEY: It break my heart. I know that it’s not an excuse, but I really am not in control of these events. As I said, I am here to say I’m sorry and clarify anything I can.
SJ: Then I hope you won’t mind if I ask you some blunt questions about you and your friends.
HARVEY: By all means.
SJ: Our abovementioned scientists have learned much about your patterns, your nature and the way you are constructed. They have learned to track your path and to issue evacuation warnings to minimize your impact on populated cities. People have also learned how to shutter their homes and to use other measures to protect themselves from your floods and winds. However, with all our scientific progress, we don’t know how to fully protect ourselves against you. And we have no idea why you exist in the first place? What you are really about, what role you play. What your “soul,” if I can call it that, is like?
HARVEY: As you know everything in existence has both a body and a soul. By studying the body of an experience you can come to understand it’s soul. So, let me give you a lesson or two in the physical and spiritual nature of a hurricane.
Do you know what causes us to be formed?
SJ: I believe that the birth of a hurricane requires at least three conditions. First, the ocean waters must be warm enough (warmer than 26.5 degrees Celsius, 81°F) at the surface to put enough heat and moisture into the overlying atmosphere to provide the potential fuel for the thermodynamic engine that a hurricane becomes. Second, atmospheric moisture from seawater evaporation must combine with that heat and energy to form the powerful engine needed to propel a hurricane. Third, a wind pattern must be near the ocean surface to spirals air inward. Bands of thunderstorms form, allowing the air to warm further and rise higher into the atmosphere. If the winds at these higher levels are relatively light, this structure can remain intact and grow stronger, which results in the beginnings of a hurricane.
In your case, Harvey, one additional element came into play which made your rainfall that more devastating: When you made landfall in Texas, you ran into a ridge of high pressure over the southwestern United States, which blocked your further movement. That in turn caused you to become in effect like a marble on a flat table, wobbling around, essentially turning you into a conveyor belt, drawing moisture from the Gulf to coastal areas and pouring relentless rains in this trapped funnel. And this was not normal rainfall; it was extreme tropical rainfall. A normal rainfall rate of 0.5 inches per hour is heavy, while anything above 2.0 inches per hour is intense. The rainfall caused by you, Harvey, was cataclysmic. Over some areas in South Texas, in a period of two hours on one night alone, 10.6 inches of rain fell, about as much rainfall as New York City gets from October through December!
HARVEY: Very accurate. But allow me to add the following. Why do thunderstorms occur in the first place? Why, for instance, does a period of high humidity and low-pressure result in a thunderstorm?
SJ: I always understood it as a form of release. As heat builds up and has nowhere to escape, it finally bursts into a thunderstorm, to release the bottled up energy.
HARVEY: Exactly. Like the spout on a boiling kettle, which allows the pressure to be released, a thunderstorm releases the pressure build up within the system. If the storm would not come, the pressure could build up and explode like a kettle without a spout, causing much more damage.
Hurricanes begin essentially as a complex of thunderstorms. When a group of these storms comes together under the right atmospheric conditions for a long enough time, they may organize into a tropical depression. Once a tropical depression has intensified to the point where its maximum sustained winds are between 35-64 knots (39-73 mph), it becomes a tropical storm. During this time, the storm itself becomes more organized and begins to become more circular in shape – resembling a hurricane. As surface pressures continue to drop, a tropical storm becomes a hurricane when sustained wind speeds reach 64 knots (74 mph). A pronounced rotation develops around the central core.
SJ: But why in the first place is there such a disparity between hot and cold, between low and high-pressure systems that cause disturbances in atmospheric conditions, leading to storms and ultimately hurricanes?
SJ: Yes, I have. The Lurianic doctrine of tzimtzum explains how “space” was created for the existence of an entity that is consciously independent of G-d’s all encompassing reality. Like a teacher that conceals his brilliance to allow space for the student, the tzimzum allows us to exist and to slowly discover the Divine reality, step by step, in ways that we can contain without being annihilated.
HARVEY: But, as you know, this tzimzum in turn causes a serious imbalance. Once the true reality is concealed, a duality has taken hold. Two perspectives now clash with each other: The pre-tzimzum perspective from “above” that sees existence as just another extension of divine transcendence, and the post-tzimzum existential perspective from “below” that sees its own existence as primary and can barely sense a reality outside of its own. The two consciousnesses – the divine one and the human one – are no longer seamless.
SJ: A disparity exists between “light” and “container.”
HARVEY: The tension between these two realities ultimately leads to what is called the “shattering of the containers.” As painful as the shattering may be, it is necessary. It serves as a form of adjustment – a so called “market correction” – to realign and readjust material reality with Divine reality. When seen in its full light, the destruction of tohu, the shattering of the containers, releases the tension and is actually necessary to begin the process of repair and building something greater. Like the razing of a building in order to build a greater one in its place. Like the deteriorating seed that allows the fruit to bloom.
Now back to the statement we discussed earlier that everything in existence has both a body and a soul. The body of a hurricane is a result of heat, low pressure and the imbalance in atmospheric conditions: The stormy winds of the hurricane are in essence coming to realign the imbalance. In spiritual terms, the soul of the hurricane is similar to the “shattering of the containers” which comes to relieve the tension and realign the imbalance between spirit and matter.
HARVEY: If you like I will give you an example from your own human body. As you know, the human being is a universe in microcosm, and the universe is like a large organism. Everything that exists on Earth also exists in human physiology. Coughing is the body’s way of removing foreign material or mucous from the lungs and throat. High fever often is necessary to burn away unhealthy bacteria and fight off infections. You can see me as an atmospheric cough – drawing energy from the warm water – attempting to dislodge foreign forces that impede the flow of nature.
Or using another example from your world: I am like a large vacuum cleaner, sweeping up the dirt and grime of the universe, and realigning its balance.
SJ: This all sounds nice and good, but please forgive me: As a vacuum cleaner why must you wreak such havoc in your path, destroying lives, damaging property in the billions of dollars?
HARVEY: For the record, did you notice the great rains that came with the winds? Those are my tears, weeping for the destruction I leave in my wake.
SJ: I am moved. But instead of weeping, why don’t you just do your thing without any destruction, so neither you or we will need to weep in the first place?
HARVEY: First of all, I am not the one in control calling the shots. I am a force driven by G-d [or as some of you call Him: Nature], so you need to direct your question to Him. What I can tell you is that like the “shattering of the containers,” my destructive force is not an end in itself, but a necessary step to maintain balance in an unbalanced world.
SJ: Are you suggesting that you are a punishment for human sins?
HARVEY: G-d forbid. Just as the human cough is not a punishment and the “shattering of the containers” are not a punishment, neither am I. On the contrary, we are all forces that help realign and repair the disparity. To correct the irregularity.
If I had my way, I would never hit land where I can harm people and property. I would prefer doing my “rebalancing” out at sea, where you would not even know that I existed. Just as many of the earthquakes take place in the ocean depths, also, incidentally as a force that relieves the stress accumulated along geologic faults, separating between the plates of the earth’s crust grating against each other.
But what am I to do when my path often takes me through land that humans have recently populated? Frankly, if there were no people and no buildings in the way, there would be no destruction.
SJ: But there are people and buildings there.
HARVEY: Well the fact is that we came first. We hurricanes were here long before you populated this part of the world. Perhaps you were able to annihilate the natives of your land, but you really can’t get rid of us, and you wouldn’t want to if you appreciated our role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem.
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely embrace your living in this part of the world. And as I said, if it were my call, I would do everything possible to stay away from hurting any of you.
But, the fact remains that we live in an unbalanced world, and you need us hurricanes as much as we need you. You could not imagine what the world would be like if we did not relieve the inherent tensions (as a cough eliminates the blockages) and did not do our share of “vacuuming.”
And finally, let’s not forget that part of the pressure includes the deep tension between nature and humans – a dichotomy that has been around for a long time.
SJ: How long?
HARVEY: My great grandfather told me that his great grandfather told him that his ancestors told him that these winds were blowing back then.
SJ: Are you essentially saying that you are merely a breath of fresh air?
HARVEY: And much more. I am a wind below that has the power to call and rouse the wind above. As the Zohar says: “wind rouses wind,” “spirit (ruach) rouses spirit.”
Did you ever notice why you sometimes cough strongly, gasping for air? You do so because you are trying to dislodge a blockage. Yes, it would be better to just breath silently with no disturbances. But when there is an impediment, you have the power to cough it up. Thus, the nuisance you call a cough is actually a lifesaver. So too, we hurricanes are a call that can reach deeper and blow away impediments.
We also cannot exist without heat and without water – the two essentials of life. Think about that.
SJ: Much to think about.
HARVEY: Now you can understand why I am offended that you insist on imposing upon me a man-made name? I am here to remind you of the winds above and the tensions between heaven and earth, and you go and try to turn me into another human commodity…
What is it with you humans? Why must you turn everything into a “product”?
SJ: What would like us to call you?
HARVEY: Perhaps… a breath of fresh air…
SJ: So where do you go from here, Harvey?
HARVEY: I will move north, deliver some life nourishing water and fill up your reservoirs. You never know when you’ll need extra water. Then I will probably just recede into the background. You won’t feel me but I’ll be there.
SJ: Since you know a thing or two about devastation, would you care to comment on the recent terrorist attacks in Europe and the current climate of terrorism consuming the world?
HARVEY: Please don’t compare me to them. I am a natural force, without free will, meant to rebalance things. As I mentioned, if it were up to me, I would function only at sea and in a place where I cannot disrupt your lives. Terrorists, on the other hand, have made a choice to aggressively attack human beings, all created in the Divine Image, for which they are fully accountable.
SJ: But couldn’t the same argument be made that the terrorists are a form of “market correction” to repair the imbalance in life, and to shake us out of our complacency and wake us up to our calling?
HARVEY: That may be true. But the terrorists still made their criminal choice, and no one appointed them to perpetrate their atrocities. So though you all need to learn your lessons from these attacks, in no way does this absolve them of responsibility for their vicious crimes.
SJ: I’m amazed with your knowledge. Are you alive? Sometimes a storm of your nature almost seems to have a life of its own as it threads its own path.
HARVEY: I am alive.
SJ: Will we ever meet again?
Next time you enjoy the breeze, feel the wind flutter or refresh your lungs, think of me. That wind may just be me whispering in your ear.
Next time you don’t know which way the wind blows, remember me.
Image credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Flickr