Rain, rain, rain. We are now turning our attention to it, praying for it, hoping for it, anticipating it, longing for it, and eagerly awaiting it. All over the world, and especially here in Eretz Yisroel, the need for rain is basic and essential. It is true that we do not feel it in a modernized society as much as we did in the past, since we do not see dwindling water supplies in our backyard as people still did just a few decades ago here, and still do in many parts of the world; but of course the indispensibility of rain is ever-present — for life, for agriculture, and, in fact, for any one of so many basic needs. Eretz Yisroel is blessed with an abundance of streams and brooks, creeks and rivulets. “For Hashem your Lord is bringing you to a good Land — a Land with flowing streams, and underground springs and subterranean waters, gushing out in valleys and mountains. (Devarim 8:7)
Of course, this then leads us to being confronted with the reality that, “But the land which you are crossing to occupy is a Land of mountains and valleys, which can be irrigated only by rain; it is therefore a Land constantly under Hashem, your Lord’s, scrutiny; the eyes of Hashem, your L-rd are upon it at all times, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year.” (Devarim 11:11) Unfortunately, the “blessing” of modern plumbing and water-storage-and -dispensation, which in Eretz Yisroel today is under the auspices of Mekoros — the national water company, who has gone and dried up many of the above-mentioned streams and water sources in the interests of creating a water-infrastructure which carries water to your kitchen sink and bathroom, as well as to just about everyone else’s — has created a distance between our Creator and ourselves, as most of us now do not directly experience Hashem’s giving us water. But let a winter or two or three go by with insufficient rainfall, and we are hit with the reality of our dependence, adding a special prayer in Shemoneh Esrei, perhaps fasting.. as the government scurries about, warning ominously of red lines, and of course raising the price we pay for water, and hatching brilliant schemes such as importing icebergs (no, not lettuce — real, live, icebergs) from our good friend, Turkey (I kid you not — people either don’t know, or have short -term memory issues.)
It is a fact that many of the rituals of Sukkos which we just celebrated have to do with beseeching Hashem to make the coming rainy season an abundant one. Chazal teach in Maseches Ta’anis, as well as in Maseches Sukah, that the four minim that we take and wave have an unusual dependence upon rain, reflecting ours, and thus constituting an implicit prayer for precipitation. The aravah we take on Hoshana Rabbah and the many many hoshanos which we say then are all about rain and imploring Hashem to send it. Of course we all remember how in the middle of the joy and gaiety of Simchas Torah we stopped, and solemnly, in a Yomim Nora’im niggun, no less, pleaded for rain in Tefillas Geshem.
And how many people are aware that the festivities and liveliness which we all enjoyed at the many Simchas Beis Hasho’evahs which we attended are commemorative, according to most Rishonim, of the nisuch hamayim ceremony on Sukkos in the Bais Hamikdash (this consisted of pouring not only wine, but also water, into the cavities in the mizbe’ach made for this purpose, while bringing the daily Tamid morning korban), itself an avodah meant to be an insinuated prayer for rain (see Rosh Hashana 16A )?
Let us now take a deeper look at this “pouring-of-the-water” ceremony. Rashi (Vayikra 2:13) tells us of a Midrash which describes the dismay of the”lower waters” when the separation between the upper waters and the lower waters happened on the second day of Creation. (If that sounds vaguely familiar, we leined it in last week’s portion, B’reishis.) “Why have we now become distant from Hashem (the upper waters remained part of the heavenly spheres, while the lower waters became part of this world’s earthiness)?” Hashem then promised them that they would “return” to Him. When? How? When nisuch hamayim is performed, when the lower waters are poured ( i.e, offered ) on Hashem’s Holy Altar in the Bais Hamikdash.
This can be understood in the following manner: Our understanding of rain is that there is something called a “water cycle,” where the water in the world is basically finite, and keeps going around and around. Let’s start with evaporation (the sun heats up water in rivers or lakes or the ocean and turns it into vapor or steam. The water vapor or steam leaves the river, lake or ocean and goes into the air.) Then there is condensation (water vapor in the air gets cold and changes back into liquid, forming clouds) Next comes precipitation (so much water has condensed that the air cannot hold it anymore; he clouds get heavy and water falls back to the earth in the form of rain, hail, sleet or snow). And finally, there is collection (when water falls back to earth as precipitation, it may fall back in the oceans, lakes or rivers or it may end up on land; when it ends up on land, it will either soak into the earth and become part of the “ground water” that plants and animals use to drink, or it may run over the soil and collect in the oceans, lakes or rivers, where the cycle starts all over again).
In Gemara Ta’anis (9B-10A), Rav Eliezer says that the source of the rain we have is indeed the oceans and seas. And the process of evaporation and cloud formation separates the salt from the water. And while Rav Yehoshua holds that rain originates from the original upper waters mentioned above, the Gemara explains there that even according to Rav Eliezer, our perspective on rain is also that it is a celestial, Heavenly gift, coming onto the earth from a more sublime, otherworldly place, as it acquires that quality when it becomes clouds.
To be continued…….