Parashat B'hukotai

The Blessing of Rain

We must pray for beneficial rain, and then follow through with environmental action.

Print this page Print this page

Human Impact on Rain

For centuries it was a core principle of Jewish faith that living in line with God's will brings the blessing of healthy rains and crops. With a modern scientific understanding that human actions affect the quality and quantity of the rain, the warning of B'hukotai warrants our attention. We must reawaken the awareness that our actions impact the entire planet.

The effect of industrialized society on rain through pollutants has been well-known for decades--we have all heard of acid rain. In the 21st century, our impact on rain is becoming even more pronounced. A consensus of scientists states that human-caused climate change is increasing storm intensity and raising the seas.

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, which alters the climate. Global climate models project that climate change may increase precipitation by 7-15% at high latitudes, causing stronger and potentially more destructive storms in those areas. Climate change may decrease precipitation at mid and low altitudes, where the bulk of farmland lies, contributing to more severe regional droughts.

We not only affect how rain comes down, but also how that rain affects the land when it does fall. With increasing urbanization in the world, land that once soaked up rainwater is being covered in pavement, which prevents the rainwater from replenishing underground aquifers (also referred to as "groundwater" or "the water table").

Aquifers directly provide more than one-third of drinking water in America, and contribute, in some part, to all drinking water sources. In some places, like Florida, aquifers provide 100% of the drinking water as well as the majority of clean water for industrial and agricultural use. When rainwater is prevented from replenishing the water table, one of our most necessary resources--clean drinking water--is compromised.

blessing of rainAccording to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the amount of U.S. land covered by sprawling urban development increased by 50% during the 1980s and 1990s. Increased building covers the land with impervious paving, which prevents the land from absorbing rains back into the water table. Unabsorbed rainwater becomes runoff, flowing through drainage systems (or causing floods when drains and sewers are overburdened), picking up pollutants along the way, which are then dumped into lakes, streams, and oceans.

Atlanta, which was struck by a major drought in 2007, leads American cities in lost rainwater, with up to 132.8 billion gallons lost per year. The volume of water lost in the United States each year would provide tens of millions of people their annual water needs.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

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.