Galilee Diary: Rainy days

… the land you are about to cross into and possess, a land of hills and valleys, soaks up its water from the rains of heaven. It is a land which the Lord your God looks after, on which the Lord your God always keeps His eye, from year’s beginning to year’s end. If then, you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, loving the Lord your God and serving Him with all your heart and soul, I will grant the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the late…
-Deuteronomy 11:11-14

We have had an unusually severe winter this year, with week after week of heavy rain, some very cold days, and snow days in places that hadn’t seen a flake in several years. Rainbows were an everyday occurrence. Such weather has its inconveniences (damp ceilings, flooded roads, high electric bills, cancelled hikes) but it is generally seen as a blessing, because no one is unaware of the reality of the water economy in this climate, and there is something deeply satisfying about seeing the culverts gushing toward the dry river beds, hearing the report on the rising level of the Kinneret, imagining the stressed underground aquifers being replenished.

Recently we had a few beautiful, warm spring days. Then we had our first chamsin, a universally despised sign of spring (chamsin is Arabic; it is sharav in Hebrew, sirocco in southern Europe [See Death in Venice]) consisting of a dry, dusty, headache-inducing wind from the desert that usually lasts for a few days at a time. Generally chamsin winds are oppressively hot, though in this transition period they sometimes blow both hot and cold, so that whatever you wear to leave the house turns out to have been the wrong choice. The first chamsin is a warning to all that lush greenery and the delicate flowers that came up during the rain that their days are numbered, and that all that life-giving moisture will soon be blasted away.

But then we were jerked back to winter with a week of intense rain squalls, with frost and snow in the mountains. The other day I managed to time my morning walk between squalls, enjoying some warmth from the sun as it rose over the next ridge, illuminating the fading remains of the masses of yellow flowers on the thorn bushes that had covered the mountainside opposite earlier in the winter – and the delicate cyclamen that is still going strong everywhere you look on Shorashim. The chorus of bird song was augmented by the annoying chatter of a kingfisher, and the decrescendo percussion of the woodpecker who spends a few days here every few months, making the rounds of the electric poles (actually I don’t know it’s always the same one…). As the culverts gushed from the pre-dawn shower, carrying the water down to the Hilazon Valley and out to the sea (except for what percolates down to our local aquifer – which will eventually make it to our taps via the well just below us in the valley), the large truck of a spring water distributor struggled to negotiate the narrow lanes of Shorashim, bringing water from a different aquifer, miles away, in plastic jugs.

It’s interesting that an entire tractate of the Talmud, Ta’anit, is devoted to the procedures to be followed in case of a drought – an escalating series of fasts, with appropriate prayer and acts of repentance – to convince God to relent and release the rain. But there is no tractate telling us how to respond when the rain is plentiful and on time. It must be frustrating to be God – when the going gets tough we come whining for help; but when everything is fine, we somehow to forget to say thanks.

Sing to the Lord a song of praise, chant a hymn with a lyre to our God,
Who covers the heavens with clouds, provides rain for the earth, makes mountains put forth grass.
-Psalm 147:7-8

Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah.

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Rabbi Marc Rosenstein

About Rabbi Marc Rosenstein

Marc Rosenstein grew up in Highland Park, IL, at North Shore Congregation Israel. His first visit to Israel was as a high school student in the first exchange of the Eisendrath International Exchange (EIE) program in 1962. He was ordained at HUC-JIR in 1975, and then served as assistant rabbi at Community Synagogue, in Port Washington, NY. Rabbi Rosenstein was a teacher and also a principal at the Solomon Schechter Secondary School in Skokie, IL. He also served as the principal at Akiba Hebrew Academy in Lower Merion, PA. In 1990, he made aliyah, moving to Moshav Shorashim, a small community in the central Galilee, founded in the early 1980's by a group of young American immigrants. He is presently the director of the Israeli Rabbinic Program of HUC-JIR, as well as the director of the Makom ba-Galil, a seminar center at Shorashim that engages in programming to foster pluralism and coexistence. Marc is married to Tami (originally from Waukegan, IL), a speech clinician working with handicapped infants and children. They have three children; Josh, Ilana, and Lev.

4 Responses to “Galilee Diary: Rainy days”

  1. avatar

    When we finally got our first rain this year here in Fresno, I was driving to teach my 9th grade religious school class and listening to a recently acquired CR remix of some of Meir Banai’s songs from the 80’s. As the big fat drops hit the dusty hood of my car, Meir started singing, גשם רד כבר גשם
    and I belted it out with him–does that count as a prayer?

  2. avatar

    March 21, 2012 – 10:45 am in response to Marc’s Ten Minutes of Torah. At the end Mark mentions that Torah does not give us blessings for the receiving of rain/water as it does give of prayers for rain to come and rules/guidelines when there is a drought.

    Last week I had an epiphany. I was at the water dispenser in the conference room filling my 24oz bottle, for the fourth time that day, when in the midst of the process I became emotionally thankful for the water.

    I covered the container and took a sip as I walked back to my office. The realization of how fortunate I and others in my country are to have at the flick of a wrist … water. No need to pump, dredge, walk miles to obtain but just turn your tap and it’s there, flowing freely and we never stop to consider the fortune we have at our fingertips. We can’t survive without water and yet there is no blessing that know of as I have over wine and bread. Water to drink should be right there on the top of the blessings. So, I’ve made my own. Each time I fill my bottle to keep me sustained, or pour water into a glass at my table I whisper, “Thank you”.

    Did the Psalmist’s perceive that so many would die such an ugly death for the lack of rain and the ability to have clean water? Is that why it is written: Sing to the Lord a song of praise, chant a hymn with a lyre to our God, Who covers the heavens with clouds, provides rain for the earth, makes mountains put forth grass.
    -Psalm 147:7-8

  3. Rabbi Marc Rosenstein

    In fact, in Jewish law there is a blessing to be said before drinking water (or any other food or beverage not covered by the specific blessings): Praised are You O Lord our God, King of the universe, that everything exists by His word (she-ha-kol ni-heyeh be-d’varo).

  4. avatar

    Just a note to tell the Rabbi how much I enjoy his contributions to the Reform email newsletter. We are visitng family in Ra’anana and Kafar Saba at the moment, and it is somewhat lush here, same as our hometown of Tucson, which had a below average but stll meaningful rainfall this winter.

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