Rain as a Blessing

Ecological balance and our prayer for rain.

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Reprinted with permission from Canfei Nesharim.

Thank God for water! Without it we could not survive. On the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, which follows the festival of Sukkot, we make a special blessing for rain. We also begin mention in the daily prayers of God as the One who "makes the wind blow and the rain descend." What does it mean for us to pray for rain? What does our praying for rain demand of us? And what role do rain and water play in our lives?

 

Water Nourishes Life

As we are well aware, water is essential to life. It nourishes us when we drink it, cook with it, or use it to irrigate our crops. It surrounded the world when God created the earth, and surrounds a fetus as it grows in its mother's womb. Plants depend on water to produce energy in photosynthesis. That is why plants spring up around water. Just look at a satellite map of any river and you will see a lot of green vegetation on both banks of the river.

So we pray that the Divine bring rain that nourishes our crops and fills our reservoirs. Beneficial rain. At the right times. As the Talmud says in Masehet Ta'anit, "The day when rain falls is as great as the day on which heaven and earth were created" (8b). Or as Rabbi Levi ben Chiyata says in the Midrash, "Without rain earth could not endure" (Bereshit Rabbah, 13:3). In particular in the semi-arid land of Israel, water is a sign of its being a "good land" (see Deuteronomy 8:7).

God's power is manifest in rain. The Gemara discusses why the Mishnah's mention of rain in the second blessing of the Amidah is phrased as "the power of rain" and not just as "rain" (Ta'anit 2a). The Sages explain, based on a comparison between word usages in three verses, that rain comes down with power and reflects the power of God. The Midrash quotes Rabbi Hoshaiah as saying, "The power involved in making rain is as formidable as that of all of the works of creation" (Bereshit Rabbah 13:4). Rain is a tremendous force God has put into the world. Altering it in even small ways can have big effects on people and on the planet.

rain drops on waterIn a number of instances God sent destructive rain due to people's actions. In the generation of the flood, God brought rainwater on the generation of Noah to punish them for going against God's will. The verse states, "Now the Flood was [upon the earth]" (Bereshit 7:2). Rashi explains, "But when He brought them [the rains] down, He brought them down with mercy, so that if they [the people] would repent, they [the rains] would be rains of blessing. When they did not repent, they became a flood." Also, the prophet Samuel calls upon God to send destructive rain to punish the people (I Samuel 12:17). These cases show in the extreme the connection between how people act and the rains that come into the world.

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Jonathan Neril

Jonathan Neril is the project manager of the Jewish Environmental Parsha Initiative. He is a rabbinical student in his fourth year of Jewish learning in Israel. He received an MA and BA at Stanford with a focus on global environmental issues.