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Excerpted from Every Person’s Guide to Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. Copyright 2000 Jason Aronson, Inc.
Throughout Sukkot we hint at our desire for rain through such rituals as the water libation practiced in the Temple and the four species, particularly the willow, which represents the association of plant growth and water. Continuing with the water theme, a particular feature of Shemini Atzeret is the prayer for rain, thus officially beginning Israel’s rainy season. Since the land of Israel relies so heavily on substantial rain for its crops, the prayer for rain is recited with a special plaintive melody, and the cantor dons a white kittel (robe), as on Yom Kippur.
The prayer for rain corresponds to the prayer for dew (tal) that is said on the first day of Passover. Since the world is judged for rain at this time, according to the Talmud, it is proper to pray for rain at this time of the year. The prayer gives expression to the natural anxiety felt in Israel for the seasonal rain, the absence of which means famine, thirst, and disease. The prayer is delayed until Shemini Atzeret because it should not be invoked when fine weather is needed to enable us to dwell in the sukkah (Talmud, Sukkah28b).
The liturgy on Shemini Atzeret introduces the following phrase to be recited henceforth, until Passover, in the Amidah prayer–masheev ha’rua’ch u’moreed hagashem, “Who causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall.”
There are six parts of the prayer for rain, each of which refers to events involving water in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, and the Twelve Tribes. Here is a translation of the prayer for rain:
Our God and God of our ancestors:
Remember Abraham who flowed to You like water.
You blessed him like a tree planted by streams of water.
You rescued him from fire and water.
He passed Your test by planting good deeds by every source of water.
For Abraham’s sake, do not keep back water.
Remember Isaac, whose birth was foretold when Abraham offered the angels a little water.
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