RAIN – Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah
Rain. Yes, after an unusually dry winter and exceptionally warm weather in March, by April this ‘green and pleasant land’ was in drought. And then, by the end of June, with daily flood alerts, it was a soggy quagmire and had endured the heaviest rainfall on record for two months in a row – which almost became three months, as the rain continued to fall, day after day after day for the first three weeks of July. Well integrated into British culture, we Jews are as obsessed with the weather and as adept at making it a subject of daily conversation as everyone else on ‘… this scepter’d isle… / This precious stone set in the silver sea’ (from Shakespeare’s Richard II, Act 2). With John of Gaunt, we rejoice in everything that makes this island exceptional – including being at the mercy of the ‘gulf stream’ that went so exceptionally astray. Thank goodness, we had the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations to distract us for a while – and then, Wimbledon, of course.
We might wonder how we who live in this rain-soaked ‘demi-Paradise’ are able to take an imaginative leap into the parched wilderness, where our ancestors wandered for forty years, or into the arid land beyond the River Jordan, where they subsequently settled. Significantly, the Daily Prayer, Ha-T’fillah, includes this line in the second blessing, called G’vurot, which focuses on God’s ‘powers’: Mashiv ha-ru’ach u’morid ha-geshem – ‘You cause the wind to blow and the rain to fall’. The rubric found in Orthodox prayer books is very telling: ‘From the day after Simchat Torah until the eve of Pesach, say…‘ It might make more sense if the rubric said, ‘say in Israel.’ As it happens, this year, exceptionally, there was a lot of rainfall there, too …. Nevertheless, the usual pattern is for there to be no rain in Israel for at least six months. And so, as soon as the festival of Sukkot is over, and all the temporary abodes open to the elements have been dismantled, the addition of a few words about wind and rain…
There is also another side to the story of rain. The second paragraph of the Sh’ma (see pages 539-541 in Siddur Lev Chadash) speaks of God ‘providing the rain that the land needs, the early and late rain in due season’, if the people obey God – and ‘shutting up the skies, so that there is no rain, and the ground does not yield its produce’, if the people are ‘lured away to serve other gods and serve them.’ It’s a stunning evocation of biblical reward and punishment theology, which also underlines humanity’s dependence on what comes from the sky above. We may reject the notion that God rewards and punishes us, but as David Cooper suggests in his reworking of the text, ’seduced’ by our ‘desire to dominate and possess’, are we not wreaking havoc on the planet? A question to ponder – and a challenge – as we celebrate harat olam, ‘the birthday of the world’, and begin the season for t’shuvah; the time for ‘turning’ our lives around. Shanah Tovah!