On the first day of Pesach, as the winter ends and we stop asking for rain, we recite “T’filat Tal” – the prayer for dew.
When we pray for rain at the end of Sukkot, it is always accompanied by great emotion and fervor. Rain, especially in Eretz Yisrael, is an essential element for our existence. Our dependence on the rains, at the proper time and in the proper proportion, is in actuality a dependence for our sustenance – for our daily bread. It is therefore, of utmost importance to us that the rains are “gishmei bracha” rain of blessing, and “g’shamim b’itam,” rain which is timely
But what about ‘tal’ – dew? What are we praying for when we pray for dew? What is the unique importance of dew? Why do we pray for it on Pesach? What is the difference between dew and rain?
To compare dew and rain would be, perhaps, to compare the digestive or respiratory system in the human body to the body’s reproductive system. The former is a system which sustains the body by absorbing the food or oxygen that it needs and eliminating what is not needed. We don’t have to remind ourselves to breathe or to digest our food, nor do we have to tell our heart to beat at regular intervals. This system is set up to work on its own – a constant system that maintains the body. It is something we take for granted. Such is the dew – it falls every day, in a regular pattern at a regular time, it is dependable, reliable – the dew is there to maintain in the world, to provide a minimum of moisture to keep the world going.
Rain, on the other hand, could be compared to the reproductive system, in the sense that the reproductive system is not a passive system. There is a creative force which must come to play, and the results are far from dependable or predictable. Many things can occur on the way to fertilization. And fertilization can come in abundance, over abundance or not at all. There is the unknown and the mysterious that surrounds this system.
And such is the rain: Accompanied by dramatic winds, lightning and thunder, it is the creative force in the world – providing the source for our very sustenance, but also being unpredictable, a wild card. Will this year be a year of abundant rains or will there be a drought? Will there be abundance or the flooding of OVER abundance? And on what does it depend on?
The rains are dependent on our own behavior, what is called in the Kabbalah “itaruta d’letata” – an awakening and a consciousness initiated by man in the material world on earth. Our deeds and actions are one of the controlling elements in whether or not Hashem will send us rain, and our prayers can influence G-d’s decision. We are bound together in an intimate relationship – the amount of rain we receive is commensurate with the way we behave. That puts an enormous responsibility on us.
When the shepherds of Lot quarreled with the shepherds of Avram over pasture land, it was decided to separate and have each man go his own way. Lot chose the easy way out- he chose the well-watered Jordan plains with their natural irrigation. Avram chose the land of Cana’an, which was dependent on rainfall. This choice was a decision to be forever linked to Hashem, settling in the land whose sustenance depended on moral and ethical behavior.
Tal, dew, on the other hand, is not dependent on our behavior. Of tal it is said “Ayno m’atzer l’olam” (Taanit 3)- it is a never ending element, unable to be withheld. Whether we are worthy or not, the dew will fall. Even when Eliahu HaNavi , because of immoral behavior in the days of Achav, decrees a drought upon the land, announcing that there will be neither rain nor dew, he is able to prevent the rains from coming, but he is unable to prevent the dew. Dew is a given, a “free lunch,” with no “payment” from man. We could say that dew is Chessed – a constant bestowing of kindness, as opposed to rain which is Din – conditional on judgment.
If dew, as we said, is a constant, never ending and independent of our worthiness, then why do we pray for it? We are going to get it anyway! We understand why we pray for rain, but why do we have a prayer for dew?
In a world of abundance, plenty, glitz and mass media, we are constantly confronted and bombarded by noise, flashy colors and drama – we have to learn to appreciate the gentle blessing of dew. We need to pause and appreciate the things that we are could be allowed to take for granted. We don’t have to tell our heart to beat , nor remind ourselves to exhale and inhale. We take these things for granted. The lesson of tal is that these very things we take for granted require a special appreciation. G-d’s constant chessed with us is not something to be taken lightly.
When Yitzchak blesses his sons, he intends to give Esav the blessing of tal (Bereishit 27). Even though Yitzchak did not consider Esav an evil person, he knew that he was no great “tzaddik” either. He decides to give Esav a blessing that he will merit no matter what he does, no matter how he behaves, independent of ‘itaruta d’letata’. That was the beracha of tal – “V’yitein l’cha Elokim mital hashamayim…” To Yaakov he would give a bracha commensurate with his deeds. (How lucky we are to have also received the bracha of tal – the bracha of constant chessed, a bracha to appreciate!)
(An additional element of “tal,” requiring a more in-depth forum is that hidden within the dew is the power of resurrection – T’chiat Hamaytim. At Mt. Sinai, after witnessing the intensity and drama of the first commandment, the nation fainted – “their souls left them” – and Hashem revived them with “tal shel “tchiya,” dew of resurrection. We are taught that in the world to come Hashem will resurrect the dead with dew.)
What is the connection between dew and Pesach? If dew comes all year round, why is tefilat tal said specifically on Pesach?
Pesach is the holiday of Chessed. With very little intervention on our part we were delivered from Egypt. Having sunk to the 49th level of impurity, Hashem bestowed upon us the benevolent kindness of redemption, taking us out of Egypt with an abundance of miracles. We pray for rain after Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, only after we have been brought to judgment, examined our deeds, and (hopefully!) become worthy of rain. Tefilat Tal is said at the time of natural chessed – Pesach. In Hoshea 6, Israel asks G-d to come to them like the rain , but G-d answers them – “Eheyeh k’tal l’yisrael” I will be like dew to Israel. The rains, though dramatic and potentially beneficial, can also be destructive if they aren’t given in exactly the right amounts and in precisely the right time. “Din” is powerful, but also dangerous. A greater blessing is to have G-d appear as tal – a dependable, constant — and gentle — chessed.
When dew falls, it falls only on things that are in the open. If there is a covering or an obstruction, the dew won’t reach that spot. A person must be a ‘kli kikbul’ , an open vessel to receive this blessing of chessed. On Pesach, we rid ourselves of chametz, all the vanity, the inflated ego, the sins of our hearts. On Pesach we must remove all the false exteriors, we must be free of obstructions, and open ourselves to receive G-d’s blessing of Tal.
Let the tal fall on our open hearts, and on Pesach, the time of redemption, let us merit a chessed that is constant and never ending