Make It Rain
Today is the Jewish festival of Shmini Atzeret, a coda at the end of the harvest festival of Sukkot.
It’s been a long time since I last attended services on this holiday, but something called me to go today. And I am all about listening to the call.
I arrived just in time for Tefilat Geshem, the Prayer for Rain.
The sages teach that this is the season of Divine judgment for the future year’s rainfall, the time when we pray that God’s goodwill may afford us the appropriate amount. They say the world is judged by the rainfall.
This prayer was created to pray for rain for the fields, to prevent drought and famine in Israel.
For those without fields, it is a prayer for prosperity.
(O/T aside: Although I haven’t researched it, I assume there is a relation here to terms like “Rainmaker” and “make it rain.”)
I didn’t really know much about this prayer before today. And as I read the translation and commentary in the prayer book, it felt particularly resonant to recent and current events. Here are a few of the big themes that occurred to me.
(1) Water Sustains Life
In the introduction to the prayer, we read that
[Rain’s] drops refresh those in whom
was breathed the breath of life
Like the earth, we are roughly 70% water. We need water to live. Without water our muscles and tissues become dry; they won’t stretch. Our body can’t function properly to eliminate waste.
More than anything else, water is the fuel that keeps our physical engine running. Without water, we will eventually stop breathing.
This is true not just for our bodies, but for our planet.
As I stood in synagogue in New York, and prayed for rain in Israel, California entered my mind and heart.
The images of entire neighborhoods and towns completely ravished by fire have been heartbreaking.
Perhaps this devastation could have been avoided if California had received more rain. As I prayed for rain in Israel, I added California to my prayers.
Water is essential for life.
(2) Water Can End Life
As much as we depend on water to live, a person who is submerged in water for too long without access to oxygen will drown.
As we prayed to god to “make the wind blow and the rain fall,” I immediately thought of the wind and rain-induced devastation in Texas, Puerto Rico, and the other areas hit by recent hurricanes.
Too much water can destroy life.
Ironically, the deluge from the hurricanes left those areas with a lack of clean water to drink.
How do you purify water, or sterilize tainted equipment?
Fire, although destructive, is also essential for life.
(3) That Which Sustains, Destroys
The pictures from Northern California feel so similar to the pictures from Puerto Rico and other areas ravished by the recent hurricanes.
Devastation by fire.
Devastation by water.
Each is essential for life.
Each has immense capacity to destroy life.
That which heals can also hurt.
We acknowledge as much in the prayer for rain. As we pray to God to “make the wind blow and the rain fall,” we get specific about our request:
For blessing, and not for curse.
For life, and not for death.
For plenty, and not for scarcity.
The prayer for rain is brief, but it made an impact on me today. Here are some takeaways.
1. Be Specific
I hear this a lot in the context of setting intentions, and it struck me how it shows up in the prayer for rain. We did not just pray for “rain.” The prayer is for rain for blessing, life, and abundance.
2. Know Your Desired Outcome
This is a concept I teach related to goal-setting: know your outcome. We don’t simply pray for “rain.” Rain is not the end in itself. The rain is the vehicle to get us to blessings, life, and abundance.
3. Life at the Extremes is Destructive
Too much of anything, untempered and undirected, can throw our lives, and the world, out of balance.
Rain. Fire. Work habits. What we consume — in terms of food and otherwise. Our use of technology and social media. Busy-ness. Opinions and viewpoints.
In every area, life at the extremes is not sustainable.
Each of these natural disasters is an example of things being out of coherency.
4. Our Duality
More than anything, I walked away with a new perspective on our duality:
What sustains can destroy.
But what can destroy can also sustain.
This is true for mother nature and human nature.
The opening to the prayer for rain is a short verse that begins:
Af-bri is the name of the angel of rain
In the commentary to the prayers, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains that
Af-bri is “the angel of rain,” a personification of the two aspects of rain. At times it is fierce, like anger (af); at others it is gentle, healing (bri) the Earth’s thirst.
This duality exists within each of us. Parts of us are fierce and parts of us are gentle; we can respond to the world in anger or from a place of healing; we have tools and talents that we can use to destroy or to sustain.
In every situation, we get to choose which side to bring forth.
Lately, we have seen angry and destructive side of Mother Nature and human nature.
As we pray for the angel of rain to show her healing side, it’s time for us to call forth the gentle, healing aspect of our nature.
By choosing to lead with gentleness and healing, we can sustain ourselves, each other, and the world.