While people are still struggling to recoup from the devastating Texas Freeze which shut down power to millions of homes and businesses, left so many in freezing temps for days, endangered hospitals and wreaked havoc with frozen pipes and water damage – it’s not really the time to moralize and learn lessons.
First of foremost we wish the best to our friends and family there, including Raizy’s sister and family and Chabad on Campus colleagues (all of whom are going all out to help their communities even with their own houses not yet in order), UAlbany alumni and other friends we know down there… we hope things get under control, all systems get back to full capacity and everyone have the fixes they need.
But on our end, there’s always a lesson, there’s always some way to find meaningful applicability in our personal lives. As the Baal Shem Tov taught: everything we see and hear ought to be a lesson in our service of G-d. And the fact that this occurred in the week when we read Parsha Zachor about remembering to forget Amalek…. “we must live with the times” said the Alter Rebbe, with the Torah reading of that week.
First about the Texas Freeze. I’m not a maven on this, and surely much will be researched and reported on how all this went down, but for now, based on what I’ve been reading, it has to do with the fact that most of Texas electricity is governed by ERCOT, a mostly deregulated system which doesn’t mandate its utilities and power plants to winterize. Even if parts of Texas got cold a bit here and there, it is almost never the degree of widespread sustained cold that would shut them down. So 98% of the time, its a huge cost-cutting measure, that makes a lot of sense in a hot region like Texas. Until it doesn’t! This explains why El Paso (which is not under ERCOT and) has its own winterized power plant and is also joined with other western regional power grids. The bottom line is that when temps went down to 15 degrees across Texas (very unusual for Texas!), it froze natural-gas lines and sensitive instruments that basically took whole power plants off line. This wasn’t just snow or ice laden trees falling on street wires, but power plants that couldn’t operate.
Now to Amalek in this week’s Parsha Zachor reading. The biblical mandate is very intense, and one that’s especially hard for us to relate to, even as a people who had so many mortal enemies throughout our long persecuted history. True, the Talmud makes clear that once the Assyrian king Sanheireb (and subsequent empires) mixed up the nations and blurred national identities, the mitzvah of eradicating Amalek no longer practically applies. But rabbinic teaching, especially Chassidus, sees Amalek as continuously relevant – in terms of the inner Amalek, the Amalek within.
Growing up the Chassidic texts (Maamorim) that we learned about Amalek focused on a Hebrew term in today’s Torah reading: “Asher Korcha” which is literally translated as “happened upon you” but shares the same Hebrew root as “Kar” for cold. Chassidus sees the inner Amalek as chilling, cooling us off from our spiritual warmth and passion, dampening our enthusiasm. Amalek is about apathy. Amalek stops us from caring.
Here’s where the Texas lesson comes in. We have to insulate our pipes and winterize our personal power plants. Yeh, we can all handle a little chill here and there, within reasonable range, but its risky and dangerous for us to be vulnerable to unusually sustained cold, Amalek’s deep-freeze can shut down our generating capacity, it literally can stop us cold. Yes, its a lot more effort, and yes it takes a higher degree of investment to protect against that. But let’s do what it takes to keep our internal generator and powering plant running – even in adverse circumstances, let’s not take chances.