Friday, February 6, 2015

Let it rain; let it rain (or snow)! The simplicity and complexity of a rain dance

So first of all, I must begin with a disclaimer. I am writing from the land of the storm that never happened as opposed to our daughters, friends and all those in Tundra Land aka Boston. While I am still singing “let it snow, let it snow” – you can sing along to “Let it go” the new anthem of so much – I know that those in our northern states have had quite enough. DAYENU!

Did you know that in Masechet Taanit, the Talmudic tractate on fasting (not eating, and refraining from other activities that bring pleasure) we learn that a snow storm is worth five rain storms and that any meteorologist could learn a great deal about different types and purposes of rain from our Rabbinic teachers of the first five centuries of our Common Era? So maybe THAT was what they were doing in their spare time – creating the first ever Weather Channel!

At times in my learning, I am not sure if I am reading a graduate level course book on rain and its science (well sort of) or a part of the Talmud. It really is rather impressive on many levels, even if not scientifically sophisticated so to speak, given their lack of technology and the American weather model and the European weather model, etc.

There are instructions of what to do when there are droughts, what prayers to say, what practices to refrain from and how to ask God for rain! There are practices indicated for individuals and for the community collectives. Like an intellectual and multi-faceted rain dance, if you think about it!

I kept wondering why most of this tractate on taking on fasts in which one deprives oneself of food and drink and so much else is so focused on RAIN and types of RAIN WATER. Oh, right, that is because as we learn in the pages of the tractate, WATER = LIFE! It’s really a rather simple equation.

I always thought that there was something truly beautiful and soulful about the verbal pageantry of the Prayer for Rain that we all say at the end of Sukkot in the fall to ask God for rain in Israel during the identified season for meaningful precipitation. But now, as I am living with this text for two hours daily for a few weeks, I have an increased understanding of the true meaning of rain and water in our lives. We cannot take it for granted and we must remember that its very presence in our lives is critical for survival and health. So first of all for those of you in schools and shuls and learning spaces, go to your favorite environmental sustainability learning resources. One I highly recommend is

It is no secret that in Israel there is so much work and efforts expended in this area and water is clearly not taken for granted. That water is what provides us with our food and drink, materials for our lives and work, the means to create shelter and so much else. It is for that reason that the communities of the time of the Talmud are told to withhold these basic aspects of their lives and beseech God for water, for rain.

In so many of our texts, water and water images are used to speak of God, Torah (even the image of being a tree of life as trees need, yup you guessed it, water!) and every aspect of life itself. We see this in our pretty literature books, such as Psalms/Tehilim.

Equally powerful as the Prayer for Rain is the Prayer for Dew that we say at the end of the rainy season, on Pesach/Passover. I am acutely aware of what congregations do continue to pray “Moreed HaTal” – God, who brings down the dew – and those who do not. I consciously say this during the rain-free months, to acknowledge that God sustains us during these times as well.

Native Americans historically and continue to do elaborate rain dances in the hot days of the summer, particularly in regions in which rain does not fall (Oh, so where did this idea come from?) and these have their physical as well as spiritual pageantry as the adherents acknowledge that without water, they will not survive. This appreciation of the environment and what we get from it as well as the responsibility we must show in using its resources appropriately is so important. Perhaps we should all think for a moment and realize that water is indeed life, it is Torah, it is our healthy crops and food, it is God providing for us in this world, and we need it and need to use it properly and with gratitude.

So as Boston braces for more snow, and we are promised more in the Philadelphia region, I will sing, “Let it snow!” – maybe here and of course, in Israel, not so much in Boston. Shabbat Shalom!

No comments:

Post a Comment