Blessing or curse? Israel hit by unseasonal rains as Jews prepare for New Year

I will grant the rain for your land in season, the early rain and the late. You shall gather in your new grain and wine and oil




(the israel bible)

September 13, 2023

3 min read

Israel was hit by unseasonal rain on Tuesday evening as the storm system, a “medicane” dubbed ‘Daniel’ by meteorologists, arrived in the Holy Land. The rain continued until Wednesday morning. Medicanes rarely reach hurricane strength and are rare, forming once or twice a year in the Mediterranean. They are most common from September to January. The rare summer storm was a welcome relief as it led to a drop in temperature, ending an extended heat wave. Heavy rain is unusual for Israel in the Hebrew month of Elul. The storm is expected to pass by Thursday.

The precipitation led to flash flood warnings in southern and eastern Israel. Sinkholes opened on Eliezer Hoofien St. in Holon and Shirat Ge’ulim St. in Herzliya on Wednesday morning.

The Israel Meteorological Service (IMS) warned that flooding could also occur along the central and southern coast, with a slight chance of flash floods in streams in eastern Israel. The IMS predicted that 50-75 mm of rain would fall along the coast.

The Daniel storms hit other countries in the Mediterranean region last week, causing intense flooding in Greece and Libya. According to reports, at least 3,000 people were killed in floods in Libya, and thousands more are missing.

Thursday is expected to be partly cloudy to clear, and the temperatures will rise to the seasonal average. Temperatures are expected to rise again over Rosh Hashana, which begins Friday evening.

Israel is an arid country, with about 70 percent of the average rain falling between November and March. June through August are often rainless. This is reflected in the daily prayers in which the prayer for rain is inserted at the end of the autumnal holiday of Sukkoth and continues until the spring holiday of Passover. This has its roots in the agricultural basis of the religion, and unseasonal rain can damage crops.

The Bible describes the weather in Israel as a result of the Jews’ relationship with God.

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. You shall gather in your new grain and wine and oil Deuteronomy 11:13-14

Connected to rainfall, Judaism has important roots in agriculture, with many religious customs reflect its importance. Jews begin praying for rain at the end of Sukkot and stop asking when Passover arrives, switching to a request for dew. Those who work in the fields know that rain out of season can be destructive, causing grain to rot rather than dry in the sun. Similarly, even in season, too much rain can be bad.

The Hebrew month of Elul preceding the High Holidays is described in Chassidic teachings as a time when “the King goes out to the field to meet with His people, greeting them with kindness and tenderness, displaying a joyous face to all.” We, in turn, “open our hearts to God.”

Divine providence is so much a part of rainfall that an angel named Af-Bri is assigned the task of bringing rain. He is mentioned in the piyyut (poem) said during the Sukkot prayer for rain written by Eleazar Kallir over 1,000 years ago but was first mentioned in the book of Job (37:10-14):

“From the breath of God He gives forth ice and the breadth of waters in a flood. Af-Bri burdens the cloud; he scatters His rain cloud. And he turns around in circuits by His guidance for their work; whatever He commands them upon the face of the habitable world. Whether for the rod, whether for His land, or for kindness that He cause it to come. Hearken to this, Job; stand still and ponder the wonders of God.”

In the structure of Jewish prayer, rain is mentioned twice daily. In the eighth blessing of the amidah, the Standing Prayer also known as the Shmoneh Esrei, a prayer of bounty is changed to fit the season, asking for rain in the winter and fruitful blessings on the land in the summer.

In the second prayer, we praise God for bringing the rain. The blessing itself extols God’s aspect of judgement, as expressed in his name, Elo-him, which refers to God’s natural expression in the world through nature,  first exemplified in the story of creation in Genesis. In the Talmud, a central text in Rabbinical Judaism, it is written, “The day when rain falls is as great as the day on which heaven and earth were created” (Taanit 8b).

It should be noted that this section of prayer also praises God for his ability to resurrect the dead. Rain, in its season, is truly a manifestation of this idea as we watch dry hills and fields, covered with yellow grass, suddenly burst into bloom after the rains begin to fall and breathe life back into nature.

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