Practical Halachah for Potential Emergencies, Evolving from “Hurricane Sandy” – From the Morei D’asra and members of Badatz, Horav Schwei and Horav Braun shlita.
It is a mitzvas asei to protect yourself from anything dangerous or life threatening, as the Torah states, “You should guard yourselves exceedingly well.”
You must not enter a heavy current of water if the water will reach higher than your thighs, due to the danger of being swept away.
It is imperative to heed all emergency directives issued by the authorities regarding the hurricane and its aftermath.
If due to the hurricane’s strength the authorities order everyone to remain indoors, you must pray at home and not risk your life in order to attend shul.
If a stay-at-home advisory results in the Torah not being read on a Monday or Thursday, the majority of halachic authorities concur that it should not be read on another day.
Upon encountering an extremely fierce wind, recite the following blessing: Baruch atah Hashem … osei ma’asei bereishis. Alternatively, you may recite: Baruch atah Hashem … she-kocho u-gevuraso malei olam. Due to a number of halachic considerations, the first blessing is preferable.
The definition of an extremely fierce wind is a matter of debate among the halachic authorities. If you are in doubt, recite the blessing without Hashem’s name (Baruch osei ma’asei bereishis).
The appropriate time for the blessing is while the wind can be heard clearly and loudly – or at least, while its powerful effect is clearly visible.
Extreme natural events are significant in halachah. Shulchan Aruch records that communal fasts and the sounding of the shofar would be arranged upon experiencing fatal earthquakes and deadly storms that topple buildings.
If you witness floodwaters sweeping into your neighbor’s property, devastating his land or demolishing his home, you are obligated to mend the breach and prevent the waters from entering if you are safely able to do so. This obligation is included in the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah, concerning which the Torah stipulates, “So you shall do for every loss of your brother” – which, as Chazal explain, includes damage to land and property. This obligation applies to any form of loss – you must do everything in your power to prevent loss or damage from occurring to a fellow Jew’s property. However, you are not required to spend money in doing so unless you are absolutely certain that the owner will personally refund your expenses.
Chazal in Gemara Berachos state regarding zeva’os that “when Hashem remembers His children who languish in distress among the nations of the world, He sheds two tears into the sea (yam ha-gadol) and its sound is heard from one end of the world to the other.” Rabbeinu Yona defines the term zeva’os as high winds accompanied by rain. Rabbeinu Chananel explains that this is done “in order to show the Jewish people that Hashem has not abandoned, forgotten, or deserted them and that He will return them in the future; He performs all this in order to strengthen their hearts so that they will not despair of experiencing the Redemption.” Indeed, may this act of remembrance result in the true and complete Redemption immediately!