Tomorrow is December 4, and you know what that means — in the traditional prayer service, we switch from saying “v’ten bracha” (God, give us blessing) to the more expanded and time-sensitive “v’ten tal u’matar livracha” (God, give us dew and rain for blessing). The change takes effect during the afternoon service, during the Amidah prayer — and it’s a tiny little change, just two words, to mark the beginning of the rainy season.
One interesting thing to note is the date, December 4 — note the absence of “Kislev” in the date. The difference between this particular prayer and all the other seasonal changes in the Amidah is that this change is based on a strict solar calendar, not the Hebrew calendar (which, by the way, is both solar and lunar).
In the Mishnah, Rabban Gamliel is asked when the proper time for starting to say “dew and blessing” is. He replies, two weeks after Sukkot. Of course, December 4 is considerably more than two weeks after Sukkot ends…but that’s explained in the Gemara, when Hanina adds, “In the Diaspora [we do not begin to pray] until the sixtieth day after the [Tishrei] cycle.”
But that still doesn’t explain — why December? Why not Kislev? Why not just start on the first day of rain and keep praying?
A couple of years ago, my rabbi ran the dates by a meteorologist. The start of the rainy season in the Middle East is a near-exact science, and even between individual lines of longitude, there’s a difference of several days when it most certainly is the rainy season, and when it isn’t.
And what they found was, December 4 is the start of the rainy season in Egypt.
It’s not a bad thing to pray for rain in Egypt! Really, we’re praying for rain everywhere in the world. For crops, for farmers, and for those of us carbon-based life forms who need to consume water to live. But if you find a surprise tropical monsoon pop up in the middle of the Sinai Desert, you’ll know who to thank — those of us who remembered to pray. Or those of us who remembered to add it, at any rate.
Pronounced: sue-KOTE, or SOOH-kuss (oo as in book), Origin: Hebrew, a harvest festival in which Jews eat inside temporary huts, falls in the Jewish month of Tishrei, which usually coincides with September or October.