Thursday, October 18, 2007
Let it Rain, Let it Pour!
PRAYING FOR RAIN ON THE SEVENTH OF CHESHVAN
While we started praising Hashem as the giver of rain on Shmini Atzeres, we only start requesting rain on the eve of the seventh of Cheshvan. The reason is that the pilgrims who come to Yerushalayim for Sukkos need about two weeks to get home, and it would be inconsiderate to pray for rain while they are still on the road.
Of course today there are no pilgrims, and even if there were they would be traveling in closed motor vehicles protected from the rain. One might think that in the time of the Temple refraining from praying for rain until Cheshvan carried a message of consideration, but today when there are no pilgrims this custom has lost its ethical meaning.
In reality, in the time of the Temple this custom carried a message of consideration, but today the custom has a double meaning - the ethical message remains, and an historical message has been added. In the time of the Temple, one who asked why there is a delay in requesting rain would have learned an important lesson - we have consideration for the pilgrims. Someone who asks the question today receives the same lesson, plus an additional one since we explain to him the former glory of Israel in the time when the Temple stood and pilgrimages were made three times a year.
In honor of the rainy season, I’d like to present some perspectives on rain in the Holy Land, from Rebbetzin Tzipora Heller, a story about the Bas Ayin in Tzfas, and from Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, whose yahrzeit is in less than ten days from now [with a special link, read on!]
This first one, from Rebbetzin Heller, is an excerpt from a longer piece from the Aish HaTorah website.
In Israel, we add a request for rain to our prayers starting from the 7th day of Cheshvan. We see rain as the physical manifestation of life force at its very source. Everything that lives depends on water to survive. Our bodies are close to 86 percent water. The spiritual source of life, G-d's compassion and creativity, is manifested concretely through His gift. In fact the Hebrew word for "physicality," gashmiut, literally means "raininess," the word for rain being "geshem". The rain we see is the source of being and becoming. We have to be mindful enough to see it, and not to fall into the trap of thinking that it is the source of having and consuming. When we open our minds to see the rainfall for the blessing it is, each time it rains, our awareness is altered. The Talmud tells us that rain is an enormous statement of G-d's presence in the day-to-day world, just listen to the comparisons that Talmud presents to us:
The answer is that we were put in a physical world with all of its temptations and inherent concealment of G-d's presence. Our role is to light a candle in a dark place, and let the goodness that it reflects illuminate the entire world. Rain gives everything material life. G-d is as much there as He is in the realms of being. There is one critical difference. In the higher realms of being, and in the more dramatic moments of history, it took very little soul searching for us to know G-d. When the world is in its less dramatic mode, far more is required for us to have an authentic relationship to the world's Creator.
I’ve already presented this story in my posting on the Bas Ayin, but because of its relevance to Rain in Israel, it is worthwhile presenting again.
Opening His Eyes
When he was already elderly, Rebbe Avraham Dov of Avritch settled in the Holy City of Tzfas. But although he had waited many years for the opportunity to bask in the spiritual light of the Land of Israel, once there he found life in the Holy Land too difficult to bear. The hardships were all too apparent, while the holiness of the land was hard to discern.
When he felt he could bear no more, Rebbe Avraham Dov began to think of returning to his home in Avritch. "After all," he reasoned, "I left my relatives and my students behind in order to live in the land, but it's all to no avail, for I am suffering so bitterly. Let me return to Avritch, and they will be happy to see me, and I will be glad as well."
When Rebbe Avraham Dov reached the decision to return home the rainy season in Israel was approaching. One day, as he was walking to the synagogue for the afternoon prayer, he heard noises coming from the surrounding rooftops. He couldn't identify the strange sounds, and he asked the people he passed, "What is happening? Where are these noises coming from?" The people were amused that he didn't know.
"Here, in Tzfas," they explained, "we have the custom of performing household chores on our flat roofs. We also use the roofs for storing food and other household supplies. The noise you hear is caused by the women scurrying about, removing all these things from the roofs."
"But why are they doing that?" Rebbe Avraham Dov asked.
"Why so that nothing gets ruined by the rain, of course," was the incredulous reply. But Rebbe Avraham Dov was still confused. He looked up at a sky as blue as the sea when there are no waves in sight.
"It certainly doesn't look like rain," he said, hoping for some further explanation.
"Surely you remember that tonight we say the prayer for rain. We beseech G-d to remember us and send benign rains to water our crops and provide water for us. Since we are sure that our Father in Heaven will hear our prayers and will heed our request, we take precautions so that our possessions won't be ruined when the rains come."
The unquestioning faith of the people affected the Rebbe deeply. Suddenly his eyes were opened and he saw the sublime heights of faith achieved by the simple Jews of the Holy Land. His pain and disappointment were replaced by a sense of awe at the holiness of the land and its people. At that moment, he abandoned all thoughts of returning to Avritch and began a new leg of his own spiritual journey to the holiness the Holy Land.
And finally, from Reb Shlomo Carlebach. But first, an important link for those who love his niggunim: Reb Shlomo Carlebach Radio -- a new website, from England, with round-the-clock Reb Shlomo niggunim! Don’t miss it!
This is an excerpt from a transcript, the date of which was given as 3 Cheshvan, 5747 
Reb Shlomo speaking: Ok, now listen to this, it's so deep: This month is the fixing of smell. Who are the people who have some kind of holy smell? And I don't mean perfume. Holy fragrance, paradise, right? It doesn't come from the Tree of Knowledge, but the Tree of Life ... I cannot see G-d, I cannot see Life. But I can smell it. Life is something so deep…
And here I want to share with you something awesome, awesome: You know, I can give everything away, but I cannot give my breath away. You know what the deepest reviving of the dead is? That I am giving you over these deepest depths which cannot even be given. And this is the month [Cheshvan] when the Third Holy Temple will be rebuilt.
And there is nothing more alive than water. There is no way of getting rid of evil smell, only with water. You know why water makes everything grow? Water has so much life. The moment water touches the earth, water gives new life to the world, like giving over breath. You know what it is? Why do we go to the mikveh? Because I'm mamash dead, right? Whenever you make a mistake, you're half-dead.
You know what the deepest depth of friendship is? Not someone who tells you that you did right or wrong. The greatest friendship in the world is if you can revive someone. Reviving somebody is not be telling them what or what not to do. It's a little holy fragrance. If someone is very, very half-dead, give them a little something to smell.
Water is from beyond creation. What is water doing to the seed to make it grow? Do you know -- the seed is a little seed, how can it suddenly be an apple tree? The seed itself is ready to reach beyond itself. Growing does not mean I was one inch and now I'm two inches. Growing means I'm beyond myself. A little seed becomes an apple tree…
You know, [on] Rosh Hoshana, Yom Kippur, Sukkos, I'm praying to G-d and G-d gives me everything. I share it with the world. Then comes Simchas Torah and the last day, I realize, all this is not enough. Master of the World, I want YOU to give me something where the giving doesn't end. I want YOU to give me something so deep, I can revive the world with it. And here on that day, I pray for geshem (rain). I pray for water. I pray for this one drop of water which is so, so deep. "Ushasvtem mayim b'sasson - Drawing out the water in joy."
A good Shabbos, a good Yom Tov, a good Chodesh!!
Enjoy the Rain, let it come now!!!
Nice post. More and more Jews in Eretz Yisrael are going back to the original minhag Eretz Yisrael, of beginning the prayer for rain on Motza'ei Shmini Atzereth. 7 Heshvan is a much later invention.... In addition, the nusah always was "we'ten gishmei ratzon, bracha, u'n'davah," according to the Yerushalmi.
"Ten tal u'matar" is a Bavli invention, and appropriate for the weather in Bavel. Dew is actually NOT a good thing in the winter in Eretz Yisrael, as it does harm to plants in the climate here.