Rain in Its Time

Dear Josep,

I awoke to the sound of a thunderclap this morning, followed shortly thereafter by the drumming of hail and the shouts of the neighbors frantically trying to bring their furniture back in from their succah so they wouldn’t get ruined by the rain. I couldn’t help but smile.

Yesterday was Shmini Atzeret, and one of the special things that happens on Shmini Atzeret is that we begin to mention rain in our daily prayers. We will continue to pray for rain until the second day of Passover, in the spring. You might be wondering, why bother changing the wording of the prayer twice a year? Why not just pray for rain all year? The answer has to do with the unique climate in Israel.

During the dry, brutal heat of a Middle Eastern August, many among us (especially those of us who grew up in cooler climates) begin to ask ourselves why God had to promise us this land of all places, and not, say, Switzerland.

"I shall bring them to a land flowing with cheese and chocolate..."
“I shall bring you to a land flowing with cheese and chocolate…”

Or if it’s gotta be in the middle of a godforsaken desert, couldn’t it be one with some oil?

Like these guys. Sorry, am I giving you nightmares?
Like these guys. (I hope this skyline doesn’t give you PTSD…)1

In all seriousness, though, the question of the location of the Promised Land is a good one, and has been discussed and debated by the Sages. One suggestion is that Israel is located right smack in the center of the map, on the crossroads between Africa, Asia and Europe.

I shall call them Israel, and they shall be Mine, and I shall put them riiiiiiiiight.... here.
“I shall call them Israel, and they shall be Mine, and I shall put them riiiiiiiiight…. here.”

One of the reasons it’s such a war-torn piece of real estate is that it’s an important point along all the trade routes between those continents.

Why is this important?

Because, the Sages say, God wanted us located somewhere where we would come in contact with all these civilizations, influencing them with our culture. We have discussed (including in my previous post) how Jews have impacted the world astronomically out of proportion to our numbers, and the central location of our land may have something to do with that.

Another reason given for God having chosen this spot, is that at least up until a very few years ago, the area was completely, 100% dependent on rainfall for successful agriculture. We don’t have major rivers like the Nile, the Tigris or the Euphrates, and the only major freshwater lake is the Sea of Galilee. “What about the Jordan River?” you may ask. You didn’t get a chance to see it when you were here, did you?

...It's not particularly impressive. "Yarden 034PAN2" by Original uploader was Beivushtang at en.wikipedia - http://www.pbase.com/beivushtang. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
…It’s not particularly impressive.
Yarden 034PAN2” by  Beivushtang [CC BY-SA 3.0]
We get most of our water from underground springs or from the Sea of Galilee. So droughts due to little rainfall were a constant concern for thousands of years. I remember observing a public fast day while I was in middle school because of a severe drought we were having, and growing up always fretting about saving water and “red lines” in the levels of the Sea of Galilee.

Why would God purposely give us a land where our survival, until only very recently, was so dependent on the whims of nature?

Well, it’s not really the “whims of nature” we are dependent on; it is Him, and His will. And being dependent on rain makes us turn to Him constantly for sustenance. It’s the difference between someone leaving a coffee machine on the counter so you can make yourself a cup, and someone you love bringing you a cup of coffee because you asked for it. It facilitates the kind of intimacy God wanted to have with us. “The Egyptians can have the Nile,” He said. “I want you to talk to Me about your needs.”

In recent years, the government finally solved the problem once and for all by building desalination plants along the Mediterranean and through wide-scale water recycling programs. We no longer live under the constant threat of water shortage. (Here is an article in the Times of Israel from February 2013 called “How Israel Beat the Drought.”) I am, of course, very happy and grateful about this, but there is something in me that laments the loss of that particular aspect of the relationship, and the sense of hope and blessing that would come with a year of good rainfall.

The climate in Israel is characterized by hot, dry summers with no rainfall at all–from around May until September–and cool, rainy winters (well, rainy by Middle Eastern standards…), from around December until March. The months in between are the transitional seasons, which are usually characterized by temperate weather interspersed with dramatic ups-and-downs–heat waves and sandstorms that last a few days and then “break,” often with a cool wind and some rainfall.

So the reason we only pray for rain from around September to around April is because, as we read in Ecclesiastes this past Shabbat, “for everything there is a season.” Rain in its time is a great blessing. Unusual weather–even rain in the summer–can damage crops and upset the delicate balance of Israel’s ecosystem. I should note that this does not only apply to Jewish prayers in Israel; Jews all over the world follow this same prayer pattern. We have been praying for the fertility of the Land of Israel for thousands of years, even on the rare occasion when not a single Jew lived in the Holy Land.

The lack of rain from May to September makes it that much more precious when it returns. There is nothing quite like the first rain of the season here in Israel, and Israelis celebrate it with the same childlike delight you see around the first snowfall in colder countries. I am no exception. 😉

I began to really appreciate rain around the time of the first rainfall in the year 2001. Yes, this was shortly after September 11th, and a particularly meaningful and “cleansing” Yom Kippur I experienced as a 14-year-old. It was around that time that I began to develop a close and personal relationship with God, and as I opened my window and breathed in the scent of the soil drinking in the rain for the first time in months, I looked up at the sky and felt that each raindrop was sent directly to me as a gift from Him. I would go outside barefoot, laughing in pure pleasure and welcoming the shower as I waded through the puddles. I would sit in my parents’ car outside, listening to the rain drum on the roof and watching it drip down the windows all around, feeling safe and warm and loved. Each raindrop felt like a kiss from God… and, well, I would kiss Him back. To this day, I instinctively kiss every raindrop that falls on my lips.

rain

I wrote in a previous entry that I have a habit of looking for God in the weather. I most often find Him in the rain.

I will leave you with a song I love by Yonatan Razel (brother of Aaron Razel, of Krembo Song fame, and the more celebrated of the two for his appeal to a general audience and not just a religious one). It’s the first song on his latest album, “Bein HaTzlilim” (“Between the Sounds”), called “Tikun HaGeshem,” the “Prayer for Rain.” It is adapted from the traditional prayer for rain recited in Sephardi synagogues on Shmini Atzeret. Something about what Razel does with the music really captures the magic of the beginning of the rainy season here.

This is my translation of the lyrics:

Prayer for Rain

The living Lord shall open the treasuries of the skies
He shall blow His wind, and water shall pour down

With the rains of Your will, bless the nation
Trapped like a bird in the snares of despair
In the merit of the Father of Many, who prepared a feast
And said, “Please let a little water be taken”2

Remember Your mercy, Creator of the celestial lights
Command Your clouds to scatter light
In the merit of the Sweet Singer King
Who said, “Oh, if one would give me water to drink”3

The living Lord shall open the treasuries of the skies
He shall blow His wind, and water shall pour down

With the rains of blessing, bless the earth
With the rains of song, prune the earth

With the rains of life
With the rains of blessing
With the rains of redemption…

The living Lord shall open the treasuries of the skies
He shall blow His wind, and water shall pour down

Wishing us all a year of abundance and many, many God-kisses. 🙂

Love,

Daniella


1. That’s the skyline of Dubai, a city in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, where Josep has spent more time than anyone should ever have to.

2. This is a reference to Genesis 18:4, when Abraham was visited by three “strangers” (who turned out to be angels), and offered them “a little water” and “a morsel of bread,” and when they agreed, prepared a whole feast for them. From this story, we learn about Abraham’s exemplary hospitality, and the principle of “say little, do much.”

3. A reference to Samuel II 23:15, the story about when King David was doing battle with the Philistines near Bethlehem, and expressed a desire to drink from the well of Bethlehem. Three “mighty men” went and broke through the Philistine camp to fetch the water for their king, but when they brought it, he refused to drink it and spilled it on the ground as an offering to God, in regret over having his men risk their lives to get it for him.

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