Right on schedule, immediately after the holiday of Succot and the annual prayer for rain, the Land of Israel experienced its first inclement weather of the season. One of the many wonders of the natural beauty and climate of Israel is the fact that for seven months of the year there is practically no rain that falls in our country. Everyone knows that an outdoor summer wedding can be planned with the surety that the joyous occasion will not be washed out by rain.
The flora and fauna of our country is exquisitely adjusted to being able to thrive in a climate of relatively sparse rainfall and again over a long period of the year when there is no rain at all. There are all sorts of scientific explanations as to how this arrangement works but to me it is simply another example of the complexity of God's creation and of the wonders that surround us on a daily basis.
There are other places in the world that have a somewhat similar climate and rainfall pattern, however this situation of nature here in Israel is of biblical prediction and weight. The early rains – yoreh – and the late rains –malkosh – are vividly described for us in the Torah. Rain is portrayed in the Bible as being part of the relationship between God and the land and people of Israel. Even though it is a natural phenomenon, rain represents the bond of eternity that exists between the Jewish people, the Land of Israel and the Creator of our universe. As such, when and where and in what amounts rain falls is not only of physical and natural consequence but it is of spiritual value as well.
I am not a particular fan of getting wet or of being soaked in a driving rainstorm. However, perhaps in a very perverse way, I look forward to the coming of the rainy season here in Israel. There usually is only are a limited amount of periods of time during our winter season when rain actually falls. The rains bring a freshness of air and a perspective of renewal to our otherwise hot and seemingly parched land.
The rains point out to us the constantly renewed cycle of life, which is the basis for all of our activities, hopes and plans. In springtime, before the arrival of the great holiday of Pesach, we celebrate the departure of the rainy season and the coming of seven months of sun. But I also celebrate the coming of the rainy season immediately after the holiday of Succot.
Its arrival confirms to me the unfailing goodness and greatness of the natural world that the Lord has so artfully constructed for our pleasure and survival. However, in our prayers for rain we ask that this blessing be granted to us in moderation. For example, the terrible rainstorms that have flooded the state of South Carolina in the United States recently are a stark reminder of how too much of a good thing can bring disaster and even death. This is also one of the moral lessons that rainfall can teach us.
The Torah portrays the lack of rainfall and the conditions of drought as being an exhibit of heavenly displeasure with us. Most commentators to the Torah limit this idea to the conditions of rainfall in the Land of Israel, which by Jewish tradition is judged and handled by Heaven in a manner separate and apart from that of the rest of the world.
This would allow us to deal with the decade-long drought in parts of the United States, such as California, as a purely natural phenomenon without any particular moral or spiritual message attached. However, it is obvious that somehow natural phenomena such as floods, droughts, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes and other severe weather events are somehow meant to impart a moral lesson to all of us.
The Talmud points out that the clap of thunder, which so startles us, is meant to “straighten out the crookedness of our hearts.” By this the rabbis meant to inform us that even chance events that occur in the natural world are never to be considered as being completely at random. Instead, they are to be viewed as a method and medium of communication between the Creator and the created.
Certainly this is to be the view of how to judge the rainy season here in Israel, which is now beginning. Let us hope that the rain will be plentiful but not overdone, timely but not burdensome and again, in the words of our eternal prayers, that it will be for a blessing and life and not for a curse and destruction.