In the midst of a drought, Israel is bracing for a heavy winter storm and even though the expected rain will somewhat alleviate the dire situation, Chief Rabbi David Lau led an unusual prayer expedition on a small circle of land that was exposed when the level of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) dropped.
Israel has suffered five years in a row of below-average rainfall, leading to dangerously low water levels in the Kinneret. The rainy season began poorly in Israel with just 45 percent of its multi-year average rainfall for September through November and only two light rainfalls in December.
Thousands of Jews gathered at the Western Wall last Thursday in answer to a call by the Minister of Agriculture, Uri Ariel, to pray for rain. The prayers were quickly answered by heavy rain overnight on Sunday. But that rainfall only added half an inch to the Kinneret, leaving another four and a half feet needed to fill the lake up to its lower red line.
Chief Rabbi David Lau took matters in hand, taking a group by boat to a small island in the middle of the Kinneret, actually just a mere circle of stones which is exposed when the water recedes as a result of the drought. The group included the rabbi of the regional council Rabbi Shlomo Didi, other regional rabbis, and the head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, Idan Greenbaum. Also in attendance were several farmers whose heartfelt supplications added a real urgency to the prayer session.
At the conclusion of the prayer, Chief Rabbi Lau said, “We must remember that we are one people, and there is one Kinneret for all of us, and as one nation we all hope that our prayers will be answered though brotherhood and friendship, and we will merit a winter that will come to be rainy, and that the blessing of Heaven will rest upon all of us.”
The rabbi’s session has a powerful precedent. In the Talmud is a story of a drought in ancient Israel. The Jews approached a righteous man, Honi, asking him to pray for rain. Honi drew a circle on the ground and stood inside the circle, praying. Honi prayed that God should not answer because of his righteousness, since he didn’t consider himself righteous, but because if no rain fell, people would lose faith in righteousness.
He vowed not to leave the circle until it rained. Rain began to fall, but Honi told God that he was praying for substantial rain, not for a light sprinkling. It began to pour and enough rain fell to fill all the cisterns of the city. Honi was then known as Ha’magel, the circle maker.
It seems likely that Rabbi Lau’s circle-enclosed prayers will be answered in a similar manner. Israel is bracing for a heavy storm that began as gentle rains on Thursday afternoon but is expected to hit with heavy winds and downpours on Thursday night lasting through Friday.
The Defense Ministry issued a statement to all security heads of local and regional councils to prepare for extreme winter weather. The storm is expected to generate unusually heavy waves along the coast, accompanied by cold weather.
Tel Aviv cleaned out their sewer drains and piping system in preparation and built a sand-wall along the entire beach to prevent waves from crashing into the city. Haifa Port is closed to incoming ships, shutting down all its piers and not allowing ships to dock.
Ashkelon, which suffered severe flooding during this week’s previous bout of rain, will be opening an emergency command center in order to deal with any issue that arises during the storm.