Butterflies and Hurricanes


Accidents happen. And happened to affect me. On day of my daughter Jessica’s birthday (and her party) a drove into mine.

on’t worry! I was OK after the accident and I’m fine now. But, as you can imagine, I was upset. Not only was I driving my wife’s car, but I was on the way back to Sea Point to fetch something for the party. After all was said and done (there was some crying from the young woman who crashed into me) I came out unscathed. The car… Not so unscathed. But, everything and everyone that is important is still fine.

But isn’t that the way of life? Isn’t life just one big accident which leads us in the path we are in today? Are we just living in a life ruled by randomness, an endless rollercoaster of chaos and disorder, the smallest events creating larger, more significant consequences? Something that can perhaps explain this is the butterfly effect. What is that, you may ask. Well it’s time for:

A science lesson, by Craig Nudelman, with the help of the Internet! The butterfly effect is the concept that small, sometimes insignificant actions have a greater impact than expected. It refers to the idea that a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado or delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a tornado in another location. The butterfly does not power or directly create the tornado, but the term is intended to imply that the flap of the butterfly’s wings can cause the tornado: in the sense that the flap of the wings is a part of the initial conditions; one set of conditions leads to a tornado while the other set of conditions doesn’t. The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which cascades to large-scale alterations of events, comparable to the ‘domino effect’. Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different—but it’s also equally possible that the set of conditions without the butterfly flapping its wings is the set that leads to a tornado.

This idea has been used plenty of times in pop culture. Its influence can be seen in ‘The Terminator’, where Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator has to go back in time to kill Sarah Conner, whose son will become a saviour for man from the machines in a post-Apocalyptic future. In ‘The Butterfly Effect’, Ashton Kutcher travels back in time, altering his troubled childhood in order to influence the present, though with dismal results. In 1990’s ‘Havana’, Robert Redford, a math-wise gambler, tells Lena Olin, “A butterfly can flutter its wings over a flower in China and cause a hurricane in the Caribbean. They can even calculate the odds.” And in “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”, <SPOILER ALERT> Scorpius Malfoy and Albus Potter use a time-turner to try to change Cedric Diggory’s untimely death, with devastating consequences.

I won’t lie, it’s been a trying year for me. I’ve had ups and downs (the ups obviously being my ridiculously incredible wife and daughter). And while we can speak about chaos theory and the butterfly effect, what brought these events on for me? Is it something to do with just that, chaos, a random event creating a set of different events which would not have occurred otherwise? Or was this something that was planned, something that was destined to happen? And if it was meant to happen, what was the Universe telling me? I can go through my year, and maybe it would sound similar to the part of the Pesach Seder where we read ‘Dayenu’. You know, the part where we say, “Dayenu! It would have sufficed!” Sometimes I want to say, “Dayenu! It’s enough!”

The word chaos sometimes has a negative connotation. It’s associated with not being in control of things. Words like pandemonium, disarray, disorder and confusion come to mind. We can’t predict the weather, nor can one predict the stock market. It’s all random. What will the effect of a single vote for Trump mean for Israel? No one knows (and BH no one will find out!). But sometimes random events take place which are joyous and enlightening, exciting and invigorating.

At the end of the day Dayenu is about being grateful for the things we have, and the things that could never have been. We all have our own personal Dayenus, things which have happened to us which would have sufficed, but the immediate after- effect led to a greater and fuller life. My own Dayenu could go like this:

If I had gone to Habonim, but not become involved in Limmud, Dayenu.

If I had become involved in Limmud, but not gone to Limmud UK, Dayenu.

If I had gone to Limmud UK, but not met Gabi Sulcas, Dayenu.

If I had met Gabi Sulcas, but not married her, Dayenu.

If I had married Gabi Sulcas, but not had Jessica, Dayenu.

If I had Jessica, but not… – Well the rest of that is TBC. In the meantime, I’ll have to focus on creating my own, hopefully positive, butterflies.


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