Parashat Ha'azinu

Dripping Like Rain, Flowing Like Dew

Moses' poetic mention of rain and dew teaches us to recognize both the obvious and subtle presence of God in the world.

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"Give ear, O heavens, let me speak;
Let the earth hear the words I utter!
May my teaching drip as the rain,
My words flow as the dew,
Like showers on young growth,
Like droplets on the grass.
For the name of Adonai I proclaim;
Give glory to our God!" (Deuteronomy 32: 2-3).

Moses' final words to us, his people, are poetry. These words are so important that ordinary prose just won't work. They are so important that the entire world, heaven and earth must listen. His words, grandiloquent, fierce, and impassioned, must fall upon us like rain, touch us like dew.

I can understand the comparison to rain. Rain, as we understand more and more in our drought-stricken region, is absolutely crucial for life. These days we welcome it with gladness. But always, whenever it rains, even a light drizzle, no matter the spirit in which we accept it, we can't help but notice it. Whatever Moses will say in the verses that follow will be like rain--an attention-grabbing teaching that we cannot and must not ignore.

But like other commentators, I'm a bit puzzled by the mention of dew. Why does Moses say that his words are like the dew? Rashi, following Sifre, a midrash on Deuteronomy, explains that everyone rejoices in the dew but rain, though vital, can be annoying to someone on a journey, for example, or to a winemaker into whose vat the rain falls as he is pressing his grapes and spoils his yield. Rashi's answer is both practical and acute; it takes into account our very human reaction to a phenomenon that we know is crucial for our survival but at that particular moment is, well, raining on our parade.

Rashi assumes that everyone unconditionally rejoices in the dew. I love the dew because it is the antithesis of rain. Dew is shy and unpretentious, qualities which rain can sometimes also possess, but much more aggressively. Rain always calls attention to itself.

But when I think of dew, it is with a smile. I think of an early summer morning. It is calm and sleepy. I could be the only one awake in the whole world except for the birds. The sun has just risen and its rays are still gentle. I am barefoot. If I just run out the door I'll get my feet wet and then go about my business. But if I take my time and look before I step on the grass, I can see the little drops of dew glistening on each individual blade. When I step on the grass, I shiver a little, but it's a pleasant, anticipatory shiver, heralding all the mystery that the new day will bring. Dew is quiet, and unassuming, beneficial and dependable, yet mysterious. It is there every morning but we are likely to ignore it or take it for granted.

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Rabbi Ruth Gais

Rabbi Ruth Gais is the director of The New York Kollel and Community Outreach at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York, NY.