The Polar Vortex sounds like a good name for a science fiction film, but to the millions of people affected by its ice-cold weather conditions, it’s as real as you can get! The polar vortex is a name for the mass of frigid air that generally swirls over the polar regions during the winter months. Over the last few months however, as part of the erratic weather patterns of recent years, the polar vortex has shifted over large areas in Canada and the United States. This has caused freezing weather conditions, ice storms and, overall, a miserable time for all the fun-loving residents of these areas!

What can we learn from this historic shift and the freezing weather we are all experiencing? The Baal Shem Tov taught that everything we hear or see is not some random occurrence, but rather a custom-made message from G‑d.

The students of the Baal Shem Tov were once walking the streets on a miserable winter day, when they saw a group of peasants at a frozen riverbank carving a block of ice into the shape of a cross. They immediately asked their master to explain what witnessing this un-Jewish scene could possibly teach them.

The Baal Shem Tov explained that even the purest of “water”—representing our Torah study and service of G‑d—can easily be transformed into unholiness, if it freezes over.

There are two ways of serving G‑d. There is the passionate, fiery approach to Judaism—an exciting, invigorating and happy experience. And then there is the “polar,” icy approach—stiff, monotonous and lifeless.

We must be passionate about G‑d. Every morning, we begin our day with prayer, invigorating the soul with its warmth. We then must fan the spark of prayer, until it grows into flames of passion and desire for G‑d and His mitzvahs.

We must never become religiously cold—one who prays by rote, who is dispassionate about the rituals and unmoved by Torah. It is a slippery slope that leads to irreverence and even, G‑d forbid, heresy. Hence the chassidic adage, "A narrow divide separates coldness from heresy."