Rabbi Yisrael Rutman
After long months of living on the precipice of drought and ecological disaster, the rains finally came to Israel not long ago. The waters of the Kineret and the underground aquifers, which had for so long stood at sub-danger levels, were rising again as heavy rain swept the country.
But Heaven's mercies were far from tender; the sky-cracking thunderstorms and widespread flooding seemed to derive from the general atmosphere of violence in the region. Indeed, for some, the steady onslaught of dark weather was depressing, as one close friend of mine confided to me. She realizes, of course, the need for rain, but such weather has always been for her a giant mood-changer, and she couldn't help feeling what she felt.
How, I wondered, does such a person pray for rain? During the winter months, the daily prayer includes ten tal u'matar, a request for dew and rain. But it's not so easy to sincerely ask for rain when deep down what you really want is warm sunshine, and an end to huddling under the endless nimbo-stratus of winter.
Nor is it a trifling matter. The Talmud records that on Yom Kippur, the High Priest would say a short prayer upon exiting the Holy of Holies.The Talmud asks about the content of the prayer. What was the mysterious prayer that needed to be said at this juncture in the drama of the Yom Kippur service, immediately after completing the burning of the incense, as the nation watched and waited? The answer: it was a prayer for rain and prosperity for the coming year. The Talmud furthermore notes that the prayer included a unique addendum, that G-d should not heed the prayers of wayfarers that it should not rain on them.
The wayfarers' prayers held such potency that such an anti-prayer for the general public welfare was required. We see from this that G-d listens to the prayers of ordinary people, even when it may be detrimental to the welfare of the majority. We must be careful what we want (or don't want), lest our desires be fulfilled.
What, then, is one to do? You can't fake it. Not for nothing is prayer is called the service of the heart; and G-d knows what's going on inside.
Is it necessary to enter into an internal struggle, to ask for rain in spite of one's own desires? To put the needs of the nation above one's own personal feelings? There is certainly precedent for it. Abraham prayed that G-d should spare the inhabitants of Sodom, even though they represented every evil thing he had dedicated himself to opposing. Why? Because he was willing to suffer their existence, to live under the black cloud of their immorality, in order to give them the opportunity to repent.
While it would be a noble emulation of the ways of Abraham, such heroic sentiments may not be necessary. An easier solution is contained in the text of the prayer itself, so carefully composed by our Sages. There are two words for rain in the Shmoneh Esrei: geshem and matar. In the second blessing (Gevurot), we are not asking for rain. Rather, we acknowledge the Creator's power to make the wind blow and the rain come down. The word used there is geshem, a general term for rain. In the later blessing for a good year (HaShanim), we are making a request for rain. There, we ask for matar, which specifically connotes desirable rain. That is, the kind of rain that fills the reservoirs and soaks into the ground, replenishing the water table; not the violent downpours that cause flooding and mudslides, and whose torrents run uselessly to the sea. Likewise, we say ten tal u'matar l'vracha (give dew and rain for a blessing), for a blessing. The blessing is in the timing, that the rain should come at times when it will cause the least hardship, when people are most likely to be home, and not getting caught in storms on the road.
Likewise, for those for whom the blessings of winter feel more like a curse, they can have in mind that the rain should come at night, when they're home sleeping, and let the sun shine during the days. So there need be no conflict between the material needs of the nation and the emotional needs of the individual.
Why, then, was it necessary for the High Priest's anti-prayer? Didn't the travelers in those days know the meaning of the prayer for rain? Perhaps not. Or perhaps, once caught on a muddy road in a drenching downpour, one tends to forget the subtleties of the text. What comes out may be a simple cry for an end to the rain. And the heartfelt supplications of a person suffering real and immediate hardship may be more powerful than the banal mutterings of the dry and well-protected under the synagogue rafters.
And what, then, when sooner or later the inevitable occurs, and we find ourselves caught in the rain? Perhaps then there is no choice but to try to overcome our feelings, and to be like Abraham for the good of everybody.
Or, maybe not. Maybe we can say a little prayer for the rain to stop long enough for us to get out from under it, to get to a nice, warm, dry synagogue, where we can ask G-d to bring down some more of that good wet stuff...but just a little bit later, please.
Sources: Talmud Yoma 53b; Otzar Tefilos; Rabbi Shlomo HaKohen M'Vilna; Rabbi Shabsy Black.
Reprinted with permission from www.e-geress.org.
|Do not pray for the destruction of your enemy. Instead, offer Hashem a prayer of mercy on their behalf that will bring them to t'shuva. Vengeance does not belong to us.
Just as God provides the rain for His creation, He provides for those who are faithful. We ought to be thankful for this, even if we are caught in that rain. It is only rain after all. |
|* * * * *|
|My daughter attempted suicide in Febuary of this year. Since then I have not been able to work, attempting to help her through. She was found to have been molested, abused and suffered greatly at other's hands. I was cleared, however, her rage and anger over it has turned her against God, against me and against herself. She was found to have an eating disorder, cutting, self destructions, and acting out. I may face having to hospitalize her again. She rebels at everything and has no sense of respect for adults or myself unless it is forced. Each day she does both better and then worse. She speaks of suicide often, each time she is caught acting out. It has become a hostage situation for myself to live in.
We need prayer desperately. That God intervenes for her, and for me. My daughter just turned 14 years old. She is borderline genius, a lovely child when the rage does not consume her.
I need strength to meet these overwhelm! in challenges that face me and to overcome both her anger at me, instead of those that hurt her, and my own patiance and guidance with her over the months.
- C. B. -0/7-/2002
|* * * * *|
|That reminds me of last spring & summer, trying to get out of a bad relationship, living in a place where the tornadoes are fierce. I wanted it to stop raining so bad, & was caught in a downpoor several times outside, but knew that this was also farm country & that they needed all the rain they could get. I would not pray for it not to rain just because I was uncomfortable for I knew the need of it in that part of the country. I am sure, if I did & God had listened, there would have been a bunch of others praying for the rain that God had stopped. The rain & the prayers are each for a reason. Without the rain, we would have no crops, no food. Without the prayers & spiritual growth, we would not know how to speak to God or be able to come near to Him. Praise Him in all things, even in a downpour. |
- D. W. -1/2-/2001
|* * * * *|
|When I was 20 I prayed a very short prayer after reading a very inspiring book. 23 years later I'm doing the work I prayed about. The L-rd prepared my wife and I over the space of time. We work as foster parents to young boys in serious need; not everyone's idea of a great job. I have learned a lot about prayer and the L-ord has put joy and contentment in our hearts. Praise Him for the "rain" of his blessing!! |
- I. F. -1/2-/2001
|* * * * *|
|Pray for the destruction of our enemies. Let there words, weapons and deeds impound on them. Pray for the 10 Iranian Jews held in Iranian prison to be released today. Pray for Dulberg sisters to united with their mother, for their father to return to Judiasm, today. For Ron Arad and others to back home for closure for their families. Pray for Moshiach to end the world's suffering. No person is a island, we need each other. |
- Y. M. -1/2-/2001
|* * * * *|
|View More Comments|
A Mitzvah Gained is Eternity Gained
Rabbi Yisroel Ciner - 5758
Moshe Lies Low
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann - 5762
Moshe had Difficulty Remembering
Shlomo Katz - 5760
The Missing "So"
Shlomo Katz - 5759
Giving Klal Yisrael A "High Five"
Rabbi Yissocher Frand - 5768
The Most Important Person
Rabbi Dovid Green - 5759
The Paradigm of Strength
Rabbi Label Lam - 5770
Don't Sue the Travel Agent
Rabbi Yisroel Ciner - 5757
On The Heaven And The Earth
Rabbi Yochanan Zweig - 5770
The Torah is Not Just for Rabbis
Rabbi Yaakov Menken - 5759
The True Age of Enlightenment
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5758
Rabbi Label Lam - 5768
Flipped Upside Down
Rabbi Pinchas Avruch - 5762
To Be "Fired"
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5766
Disappointment is More than an Offering
Rabbi Yissocher Frand - 5760
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5769