Israelis have been struggling with a searing heatwave this week with daytime temperatures averaging 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Referred to in Arabic as a Khamsin, this type of weather is caused by a shift in the wind, bringing in hot dry air from the deserts in the east and south. Israel normally enjoys cools winds blowing in from the Mediterranean in the west and this unusual wind is described in the Book of Exodus as a ruah kadim or “east wind” and is credited with parting the Red Sea
Thursday night brought a change in the wind and lower temperatures. Friday’s weather will be partly cloudy and will bring a relieving drop in temperatures and a rise in humidity though, in most parts of Israel, temperatures will continue to be higher than normal. Friday night and Saturday will be partly cloudy and there may be light rainfall the north. This will continue on Sunday and there may also be rainfall in the northern Negev, Jordan Valley, the Judean Desert, and the Dead Sea areas where there will be a slight chance of flooding. Temperatures will continue to drop to lower than seasonal average.
Monday will be partly cloudy or clear. Temperatures will rise but remain lower than the seasonal average. During the morning hours, there may be light rainfall in northern Israel.
This weather is quite unusual as Israel typically experiences a pronounced rainy season with very little rain falling after Passover. After a five year drought, Israel was blessed this year with prayers for rain being answered, exceeding the annual average by 105% and up to 120% in some regions. The Kinneret (Sea of Gallilee) now stands at 209.61 meters below sea level and less than a meter below full capacity.
Water can be the source of great blessing, but at the wrong times, too much or too little water can also be a curse. This concept of rain falling in the proper season is so strong as to be referred to by the Prophet Ezekiel.
I will make these and the environs of My hill a blessing: I will send down the rain in its season, rains that bring blessing. Ezekiel 34:26
The first day of Passover signals the end of the winter rainy season so the thrice-daily prayers are adjusted to reflect this by removing the request for rain and replacing it with a prayerful request for dew. This is done on the first day of the holiday in the hopes that the holiday itself will be free of rain since rain spoils the enjoyment of the Temple celebrations.
As the land of Israel is central to Judaism, Jewish prayer reflects this by making the prayers reflect the passage of the seasons in Israel. The time after Passover is the time for the grain harvest and rain will cause the sheaves of grain lying in the field to rot.
Though normally the weather can be expected to be sunny and dry until the holiday of Sukkoth when the next rainy season begins, there are, of course, occasional exceptional days when unseasonal rains fall. Jewish tradition (Mishnah: Ta’anis 12b) teaches that rains that fall at the end of the month of Nissan after Passover are considered to be a bad sign for the world and are, in fact, a curse.
But rains that fall in the next month, Iyar, do not follow this rule. Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel, an 18th Century Hasidic leader from Apt in Russia, certainly felt so, teaching that rains in the month of Iyar had a ‘segula’ (benevolent influence).
“Rain that falls in the month of Iyar bring great healing to the world for every ill that has no cure anywhere,” Rabbi Heshel wrote in his book Oheiv Yisrael. Rabbi Pinchas Shapiro of Koretz, a Polish-Lithuanian Hasidic leader who was a contemporary of Rabbi Heshel, taught that the benevolent influence of Iyar rain could be accessed by standing bareheaded outside in the rain. He also recommended opening the mouth and drinking the rainwater.
This surely bears hope for succor from the current pandemic however this beneficial side-effect of rains in the month of Iyar ends this Shabbat as the month ends.
Though rain out of season may not be desirable, the Yerushalmi Talmud (Taanit parek aleph, halacha chet) teaches that as long as there was enough rain during the winter, rains after Pesach are an additional blessing. This double-dose of rain is hinted at by the Prophet Jeremiah.
They have not said to themselves, “Let us revere Hashem our God, Who gives the rain, The early and late rain in season, Who keeps for our benefit The weeks appointed for harvest.”Jeremiah 5:24
In fact, the rains in Israel are not entirely set in their seasons and, according to the the Bible, are affected by the actions of the Jews.
If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments, I will grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit. Leviticus 26:4