Just as Jews around the world began praying for the blessing of rain in Israel on Monday, prayers are already being answered as forecasters predict the first rainfall of the season will fall across Israel on Tuesday.
The timing of the rain, which is being hailed as a sign of God’s grace and blessing across the land, could not be more auspicious. Rain during the Sukkot holiday, in which Jews dwell in outdoor traditional booths for seven days, would have forced celebrants indoors. The end of the Shmittah cycle this year has left farmers desperate for rain to irrigate their newly planted crops, an act forbidden over the past year.
The rain is also an especially welcome blessing since the last month has been particularly hot and dry across Israel, with a dust storm of Biblical proportions that covered the region for almost a week.
Many aspects of Jewish observance are based on rain and agriculture. Sukkot marks the beginning of the rainy season, a period considered to be a time of judgement for the nation of Israel on how much rain will fall in the upcoming year. Rain is a matter of grave importance for the arid region of Israel. For those who are unfamiliar with Israel’s climate, rain generally falls only in the winter.
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.
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.