On Monday evening, Jews began praying for rain and their prayers were immediately answered as the first significant rainfall of the winter season fell on the holy city of Jerusalem.
Rain and prayer
On Tuesday, cloudy weather turned to rain that was accompanied by spectacular thunder and lightning lighting up the heavens over Jerusalem and around the country.
Israel is an arid country with about 70 percent of the average rain falling between November and March. As such, in order for rain to be considered a blessing, it is important that it falls in its proper season, as noted by the Prophet Ezekiel, which does not begin until after the holiday of Sukkot.
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
Jews begin adding a section requesting rain to the thrice-daily prayers on Tuesday evening, the seventh day of the month of Cheshvan.
This custom is a bit confusing. At the end of Sukkoth on the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, also known as Simchat Torah, the phrase, “מַשִּׁיב הָרוּחַ וּמוֹרִיד הָגֶּשֶׁ (He causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall) is inserted into the second section of the prayers that describes God’s attribute of awe and the resurrection of the dead. This., however, is not a request for rain but is, rather, an affirmation that God is the master of rain and the source of life.
On the seventh day of Cheshvan, a section asking for rain is added into the ninth paragraph of the prayer service which requests sustenance from God.
Though, in theory, it would be better for the agriculture in Israel for the rain to fall directly after Sukkoth, the Talmud (Ta’anit 10a) explains that we delay requesting for rain in order to make the journey home easier for the pilgrims who travelled to Jerusalem for the Sukkoth feast.
The Tosafot Yom Tov (commentary to the Mishnah by Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipmann ben Natan ha-Levi Heller, central and eastern Europe, 1578-1654) adds: “Because sometimes they would tarry a little in Jerusalem, until the entire Festival had finished”.
The Talmud adds the exception: “However, in the exile, [we pray for rain] sixty days after the Autumn equinox” (Ta’anit 10a) which was when Babylon needed its rainy season to begin.
If, then, you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, loving Hashem your God and serving Him with all your heart and soul, I will grant the rain for your land in season, the early rain and the late. Deuteronomy 11:13
It is interesting to note that the request for rain came directly after the Shabbat that the Torah portion is read describing the flood of Noah.