We no longer merit a Sanhedrin to conduct capital cases (and even when we did, the Sanhedrin only arrived at the death penalty less than once in 70 years).
So Chazal said that those who deserve a certain type of death penalty may receive it in an unofficial way.
For example, one who commits the sin of toeva, which earns the penalty of execution by burning, may indeed die in a fire.
Therefore, because so much suffering highlighted in the world this year connects to chenek, it's helpful to look at that.
High-profile cases of death during arrest had to do with the perpetrator suffocating to death (usually from his own health issues & drug addiction, intensified by forcing the perp into awkward positions).
Symptoms of COVID-19 include coughing & difficulty breathing, with more severe cases causing serious breathing problems.
While hurricanes can kill via skilah (stoning), the most common way is by drowning--chenek.
Wildfires can certainly kill via sereifah (burning), but victims tend to die of asphyxiation rather than the actual heat of the fire.
And right now, you have millions of people affected by the smoke of America's Western wildfires.
Symbolically, 40 years of Californian environmentalism ensured that massive amounts of dead, dry trees & underbrush would "strangle" the lush forests—and provide copious fuel for wildfires. (See here for how that works.)
On the lighter side of it, we are forced to wear an oxygen-inhibiting mask. While not leading to actual chenek, it inhibits breathing, a mild form of non-lethal chenek.
So we definitely see a theme here...
Social Sins & Chenek
- Committing adultery with another man's wife.
- Striking one's own parent hard enough to wound them.
- Kidnapping another Jew (and forcibly bringing him or her to one's property).
- Prophesying falsely (i.e., a "prophecy" that he never heard OR that he heard from another person, rather than from Hashem).
- Prophesying in the name of other deities (EVEN if it supports Jewish Law)
- A Torah elder guilty of insubordination before the Sanhedrin.
- Testifying falsely that someone had adulterous relations with a Kohen's daughter
(Mishnah Sanhedrin 11)
Needless to say, adultery has reached appalling standards of acceptance in society at large.
For decades, it has been both glorified & justified in popular books, movies, and songs.
I still remember in my teens as we waited to hear the results of the #1 Most Popular Song in the World that year.
To my shock, it was a song that cheerfully glorifies adultery, making adultery seem like a playful pastime rather than the disgusting betrayal it actually is.
My siblings and I looked at each other, mystified.
It wasn't even such a great song!
Yet in addition to our agreement about its aesthetic lack of merit, the lyrics always bothered me. In addition to making adultery seem like a playful, desirable pastime, it implied that everyone engaged in it.
But clearly, its lyrics comprised a big part of the song's popularity—meaning that a large part of the "civilized" world identified with the idea & the attitude expressed in the song.
(UPDATE: Originally, I named the song as I wrote down this memory. Then I kept hearing the song in my head. "Argh!" I thought. "What have I done? And in the 10 Days of Teshuvah too, for crying out loud..." Then I remorsefully realized that if it happened to me, then probably it caused this for others too. I'm sorry. So the name has been deleted.)
Another song that hit the pop charts for years was sung by a self-professed believer in the gospels who got her start in gospel music. Her popular croon was an ode to an adulterous relationship, romanticizing the betrayal in the most appealing way.
We even sung it in our high school jazz choir, but needed to change one of the lyrics to make it less inappropriate for teens.
Because of the large church-going population in my school, it caused some discomfort for both the singers & the audience.
Some people questioned its propriety for high school students.
Some wondered: What could the music teacher have been thinking?
Well, considering his past, he was probably thinking: I can really relate to this!
After all, he'd been married 4 times; each successive wife had been the woman with whom he'd cheated on the wife before.
Each time, he had an affair with one of his 12th-grade students, divorced the previous wife, then married his student-paramour after graduation. (We met his much younger 4th wife a couple of times...and, boy, was she uncomfortable around us...)
So he probably felt it was his personal theme song.
Okay, my high school music teacher was not exactly the adulterer mentioned in the laws above. Furthermore, different laws apply differently to non-Jews & Jews.
But certainly, adultery runs rampant through modern society, both the glorification & romanticization of it, along with the practice of it.
Anyway, prophesying falsely and convincing others to worship idols because of a dream you had...well, I can think of entire religions which fit that transgression.
The other angle to that sin appears when you switch the English translation "idolatry" or "idol worship" to "occult worship."
The oh-so simple-sounding idolatry of ancient times was a very powerful & dark occult worship still practiced today, albeit in modern form.
And in the USA, children definitely turn on the parents in far greater numbers than ever before.
Even in immoral & violent societies, it was unheard of for a child, especially a teenager or adult, to physically harm a parent—even if that parent physically abused that child.
But it happens now. Maybe not the majority, but it definitely happens more than ever before.
Finally, according to the 7 Laws of Noach, sxual abuse goes under the category of kidnapping, which is an aspect of stealing. As we know, Noachide transgressions elicit the death penalty.
Such crimes are also obviously forbidden among Jews, and as we see above, kidnapping is a transgression which earns the penalty of chenek.
Along these lines, human trafficking in general & child trafficking continues to be a increasing tragedy worldwide. Very little is being done to stop it.
The Rambam and the Gemara have a lot more to say about all the above, but I don't know either of them well enough to extrapolate further.
Suffocation on the Personal Level
After all, Hashem knows that most people (including Jews) do not know the intricacies of Jewish Law & execution & how they connect to current events.
Let's ponder the following:
- How many times have you, as a religious person, felt that you must put up & shut up around non-religious (or less religious) people, no matter how appalling their behavior or conversation?
- How often have you, as a religious person, suffered jibes & tirades in either silence or placation because your nemesis came across some kind of exaggeration or outright falsehood about religious Jews in the media, and refuses to believe otherwise?
- How long have people with the true moral high ground felt gagged & unable to express (no matter how gently) their real (and truly more virtuous) thoughts & feelings due to fear of offending someone or being shut down or rejected?
- Or maybe you gag yourself because of deep-seated false beliefs?
- Maybe you don't allow yourself to feel so much joy & pleasure in life?
- Maybe gag yourself regarding your relationship with Hashem?
- How many people express the feeling of being suffocated, gagged, boxed in, or shut down due to the inflexible behavior of others?
- Don't many people express their distress as "I feel like I'm drowning in..."?
Interestingly, the most oppressive & abusive people often scream the loudest about feeling "gagged" or "censored" or "oppressed" when ANY boundaries are placed on their abusive behavior.
Is it any wonder that the most Leftist regions of America (the West Coast), the ones who feel most oppressed & suffocated by anything religious or conservative or moral or Trump-related, the ones who embrace the most liberal policies regarding drugs, toeva, environmentalism (which is really nature-worship—see above)...are now experiencing REAL air-oppression & confinement?
Previously, their complaints & fears were imaginary, based on media-hype.
And now they really ARE being suffocated. Gagged. Confined. Shut down & shut in.
The Suffocating Atmosphere was There All Along...
But only the spiritually sensitive could perceive it.
The smoke from America's West Coast wildfires reached the East Coast.
All along the West Coast, people must stay inside their homes with all the windows closed (in summer weather!—and not everyone has air-conditioning) because the smoke is so thick.
Now the air quality isn't only spiritually bad, it's physically bad.
The suffocating spiritual pollution has now manifested itself physically.
A relative who lives in one of America's most toeva-tumah-infested cities (in the thick of the smoke, though not in the path of the fire) is forced by the wildfire smoke to use 5 air-purifiers at one time.
Now if that's not perfect symbolism for that city, then I don't know what is.
Facing the Truth with Courage & Conviction
That always happens. It doesn't negate the message emanating from the majority no-goodniks. It's part of the spiritual physics.
I definitely daven & feel for the innocent people who lost their homes, who've had their lives upended, and who are suffering now.
But Judaism considers it cruel to ascribe events—especially such tremendous events—to happenstance.
Hashem is intimately involved in our lives, whether or not we choose to see it.
Furthermore, we Jews are also expected to look at world events and take them as warnings for ourselves.
How can we better ourselves? What does Hashem want from us?
And can we take baby-steps toward cultivating a personal relationship with Hashem, including opening ourselves to feeling His Love despite all the inner obstacles?
Can we at least start to embrace the idea that Hashem is the Loving & Compassionate Source of everything?