Rain as a Blessing

Ecological balance and our prayer for rain.

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Today, however, there is another aspect to the people-God-rain equation. While in the past God brought rains according to people's actions, today our actions can affect the rains that God brings into the world. In short, we affect how rain affects us--at the local, regional, and global scale.

When we pray for rain, we hope that it will fill the rivers and reservoirs with clean water that we can drink. But with increasing urbanization in the world, land that once soaked up rainwater is being covered in pavement, which prevents absorption of the water. Think about how much rainwater in our city actually seeps into the earth, versus how much goes into gutters, storm drains, and then out to sea. Impacting large urban areas like Los Angeles, Phoenix and Atlanta, this new reality is also quite pronounced in Israel. As the Israel Environment Bulletin notes, "By 2020, the population [in Israel] is expected to reach some 8.4 million [people] and population density may reach 858 people per square kilometer north of Beersheba. By 2020, floor space per person in Israel is expected to reach 40 meters per person--double that [of] today." ("Open Space in Israel," Israel Environment Bulletin, vol. 29, Sept. 2005)In a matter of decades, a continuous urban settlement may likely stretch from the northern coast to the southern coast, from Nahariya to Ashkelon. More people and larger houses for those people translate into urban growth paving over much of the coastal plain.

It is rather contradictory to pray for beneficial rain and then pave over the land that would soak up the rain. The prayers for rain are specifically about rain in the land of Israel. We say, "God, please bring us rain," and God does, but the rains descend on the central part of Israel with a significant amount of land paved so that a good part of the rains flow to the sea in drainage ditches and do not replenish the groundwater aquifers, needed for drinking water. Israel needs the ground to absorb this rain for our many uses; the ocean already has enough water!

In addition, by changing the climate, we may be changing the way some rains come down and bringing destructive rains on ourselves. Rain that once nourished us can end up harming us. By burning fossil fuels in our cars, homes, factories, and planes, we are increasing the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere. This causes a "greenhouse effect" and raises temperatures in the oceans. According to a number of scientists, warmer oceans may be making hurricanes more intense and destructive, because hurricanes extract heat from the oceans at depths up to 100 meters. That is, more heat in the oceans means more heat that tropical storms draw up in creating energy in hurricanes. Examples of this not only may include Hurricane Katrina over New Orleans and other hurricanes over Florida and the Gulf Coast, but also more intense typhoon seasons in East Asia.

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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.