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In Dew Season

In this moment of crisis, we need to let things arise and evaporate, leaving us unburdened enough to do the work of peace.

In my Midwestern upbringing, any day of the year could bring a storm. In summer, the daytime sky could grow dark as night and thunder would shake the house. In winter, feet of snow could cover every feature of the landscape, keeping us from school and cozying us up at home. There was an exciting unpredictability to heaven’s severest moods.

It wasn’t until I moved to California that I learned there are places where rain has its own designated season. As I began to feel the California rhythm, I realized it was the same as the land of Israel: winter rains running from Sukkot until Passover, then dry summer for the remaining six months of the year. But Jewish tradition does not characterize the summer season as one of dryness, but by the presence of dew, which continues to quietly, gently nurture the land. 

With the arrival of Passover last month, we left the rainy season behind and entered the season of dew. This seasonal shift is marked in our Jewish practice in a couple of ways. First, the words of our daily Amidah prayer are slightly altered, dropping the language of rain in favor of praise for God as the bringer of dew. In addition, we have two grand prayers that act as gateways from one season to the other. In the fall, on Shemini Atzeret, we recite a prayer for rain in which we name different biblical figures, referencing their special relationships with water, and ask God to give plentiful rain by their merit. Then in the spring, on the first day of Passover, we recite a prayer for dew in which we poetically invoke the gentle, nourishing qualities of dew.

I love how the change of seasons and the memory of an ancient agricultural life continue to be reflected in contemporary words and practices. And I wonder about it too. I think about my distant ancestors leaving the Mediterranean basin, migrating over the Alps into the green, wet hills and plains that they would call Ashkenaz. When they arrived in this unpredictably rainy climate, what made them decide to continue to pray according to the seasons of the old country? Why choose — because at some point it was someone’s choice — to carry forward the climate of Israel in our bodies and prayers, despite the summer rains of Europe and the importance of fertile soil there too? The rain and dew seasons continue to live in us, no matter the land in which we live.

The last time we offered the formal prayer for rain was last Shemini Atzeret — October 7th. While the prayer brought no more or less rain than you’d expect, that day unleashed a storm in our world – torrents of violence, shock, and reprisal. Since then, we have been waterlogged with grief, soaked with sorrow, inundated with the impulses that emergency brings. We have swum in ancestral agonies. And we have pulled and clawed at each other with the desperation of people trying to keep their footing in rising floodwaters. The storm has continued because the suffering has continued — the suffering of Israelis and the suffering of Gazans and the suffering of all of us caught on the outskirts, wanting peace and safety and sustenance for all. 

Now it is dew season and I am more than ready for it. Our ancestors thought that dew fell overnight, a gentle rain from a clear sky. But we know better. Dew is not top-down but bottom-up. Dew is the condensation of water molecules from the air forming on the thin grass at ground level. Dew materializes without causing harm — no roof collapses, no floods, no downed trees. It emerges fresh each day, and each day it offers itself up, evaporating and rising into the air like an incense offering on an altar. 

I am ready for this gentleness. My prayer for dew season is that we let whatever is stirring in us emerge in the morning and condense on the landscape of our day — our sadness, our worry, our eagerness, our fear, our shame. That we let it form like tiny droplets and then offer itself up — evaporating in the light of day, ascending like a prayer, leaving us unburdened enough to turn to the work and words of peace.

There is an undeniable majesty in the drama of the thunderstorm, and an impulse to be right in it. Whenever my sister and I, both seasoned Californians at this point, are back in Chicago, we race outdoors during thunderstorms, drawn to the drama despite (and even because of) the risk. But in this moment of crisis, we don’t need more thunder and lightning. We need the gentleness of dew. We need to let things arise and evaporate, released like a prayer to the ears of the still-listening Divine. We need the chance to be our best selves without the fear of being washed away in a deluge.

May the healing dew come this season. And as the text of the dew prayer concludes, may it come for blessing and not for curse; for life and not for death; for plenty and not for scarcity. 

This article initially appeared in My Jewish Learning’s Shabbat newsletter Recharge on May 4, 2024. To sign up to receive Recharge each week in your inbox, click here. 

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