The Rainy Season

January 12, 2018

I’m sure you couldn’t help but notice that it’s been pretty rainy lately, in fact . . . unusually rainy for this time of year. This Shabbat, during the Amidah (the standing prayer) when you get to the prayer praising the Lord “who gives life to the dead” (in reform congregations, the phrase is “who gives life to everything”) you’ll see an instruction that between Shemini Atzeret (that was in October) and Passover you should say: Mashiv HaRuach uMorid HaGesamim (Praising the Lord for making the wind blow and bringing down the rain). [OK, OK … you say this during EVERY daily prayer service at this time . . . but you’ll notice it on Shabbat.] What’s THAT about? Why now? Why between Shemini Atzeret and Passover? What gives?

It’s a long story. So much of what we do in the synagogue has to do with the seasons. However . . . the seasons that inform our traditions aren’t the seasons in Milwaukee – they’re the seasons in Israel! We have now seriously entered the rainy season. Of course here in Milwaukee, the “rainy season” is usually cut short by the winter and the snowy season – even though right now in January it’s raining rather than snowing. In Israel, however, the rainy season lasts between Shemini Atzeret (the holiday that’s celebrated on the eighth day of Sukkot), and Passover . . . September/ October until April. In fact . . . even though we think of the world as having four seasons (Summer, Fall, Winter, and spring) and there are Hebrew words for the four seasons (Kayitz, Stav, Choref, and Aviv), the Bible itself only names three seasons : Aviv (Spring) Kayitz (Summer) and Stav: Stav is the word for Autumn, but when it’s in the Bible, it’s usual translated as “Winter.” In “Song of Songs” for example the famous phrase is:

For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;

The flowers appear on the earth.

A better translation would be “For lo, the rainy season is past, the rain is over and gone.” In a country like Israel, in which there’s rarely rain in the summer, the agricultural year depends on the rain. That’s why on Shemini Atzeret – the main thing that characterizes the holiday is the introduction of the prayer for rain. And that’s why this Shabbat – and all Shabbatot until Passover –  you’ll be saying a prayer for rain.