Monday, September 26, 2022

Shemot 40: 34

Stormin’ Saul Rabinowitz had been the weatherman on the Secaucus-based local New Jersey television station for the last 25 years. He was a fixture on their 10 o’clock news program, and people all over the metropolitan area tuned in to hear him say such classic catchphrases as, “It’s hotter than Hades out there,” or, “It’s colder than a snowball in Siberia.” He once received an award for his “Storm of the Century” coverage in 1995, when he said, “It’s not just raining cats and dogs outside, it’s hailing cabs” (sorry, I got a little carried away), and he could work the weatherman’s blue screen with the best of them.

Saul was also very popular as a speaker on the stuffed cabbage circuit. He often appeared at local Jewish events in support of different charities, including everything from the local UJA Federation and the Jewish veterans, to AIPAC and the Bergen Jewish Save a Pet Foundation. The walls of his home in Englewood Cliffs were lined with plaques from many grateful organizations, and he gladly gave of his time.

Once, on a partly cloudy Monday afternoon, with a cool northwesterly breeze wafting in from the northern Highlands, Saul found himself in a synagogue in Ridgewood, standing in front of a group of Hadassah women, speaking about what it was like to be a Jewish weatherman. They ate up his story about how he always tries to downplay the rain in the forecast before Sukkot, and he closed with the story about his lucky galoshes that his rebbe blessed. Then, as was his routine, he opened the floor to questions.

A new or unusual question was rare. People often asked him how he trained to be a weatherman, or what it was like to work with some of the celebrities he had shared the news studio with over the years. Occasionally he would field a question about his son, Rocky Rabinowitz, who was now the handsome young sports reporter on the station. Diehard Rabinowitz fans might ask him a question from the autobiography he wrote a few years back, “A Fan of the Wind: The Saul Rabinowitz Story.” There was usually nothing challenging in the group.

Saul called on a girl at the third table on the right who was eagerly raising her hand. Was she the child or the grandchild of the matronly woman sitting next to her? The girl rose from her chair with a big smile on her face.

“Mr. Rabinowitz,” she said breathlessly, “I’m a big fan of yours. My parents have been watching you for years.”

“Please, call me Saul.”

“Um, OK, Saul. My question is a little unusual. We’re learning about the Exodus from Egypt in our Chumash class in school, and we’re also learning about the weather in earth science class. So I was wondering, what kind of clouds were the Ananei Hakavod?”

“Excuse me?”

“You know, the cloud that led the Jews in the desert for forty years. As a weatherman, I thought you might know what kind of cloud it was. I know there are all kinds of clouds out there.”

Saul stared at the girl.

“What’s your name, young lady?”

“Avital. Avital Magen.”

“Hmm. Avital Magen, that is a very unusual question. I’m not sure there’s an easy answer, but if anyone can help you, I imagine it would be a somewhat observant Jewish meteorologist. Someone get me a Chumash.”

One of the women went to the sanctuary and came back with a Chumash. Saul opened it to Parshat Pekudei and read the text in earnest.

“Let’s see. It says here that the cloud rested on the Tabernacle, so that would mean it was a low-level cloud. I would have to say a cumulus. That would make it dark on the bottom and bright on the top, and kind of shaped like a cotton ball.”

Saul turned to Avital. “Does that sound right?”

“I guess,” Avital said, shrugging her shoulders.

“Still, it says the cloud would rise up off the Mishkan. That might make it a high-altitude cloud, like a cirrus. They can often be bright white in color, and I imagine that’s what the cloud in the desert would have looked like. Do you follow what I’m saying, Avital?”

“Sure, Saul,” Avital said unconvincingly.

“Then again, it would move with them on their journeys, so I imagine it would be a fast-moving cloud, something like a stratocumulus. Do you see what I mean?”

“Uhuh,” Avital said.

“Then again, if you were going for pure majesty in a cloud, I would say it should be something high and puffy, like a cumulonimbus. That would certainly look beautiful hovering over the Mishkan, wouldn’t you say?”

Saul looked up from his Chumash and noted that Avital and all the Hadassah women in the room were looking at him with blank stares. He smiled.

“I guess no one cloud would fit the bill entirely, Avital. These Ananei Hakavod would have to be miraculous to do everything they had to do. They would be cirrostratocumulonimbus clouds. I guess sometimes science just doesn’t have the answer. Let’s call it a ‘deio cloud,’ a cloud of God. Does that answer your question?”

“It certainly does,” Avital said. “Thank you.”

“Now,” Saul said, turning back to the group, “would anyone like to hear about the time it snowed 6 inches on Yom Kippur?”

By Larry Stiefel

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