Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

The rain – how odd

umbrella in the rain, Jerusalem
Umbrella in the rain, Jerusalem, November 1, 2016

How odd, the rain, that the sky can open up and do such a thing.  I’d almost thought it had forgotten how.

Living where rain can happen anytime, anywhere, it was simply an annoyance.  An outdoor game or hike cancelled, an extra layer of outerwear, rushing out in the nick of time to close the car windows – or forgetting and returning to sodden, musty-smelling car in the morning.

So it has been very strange moving to a place where rain is a special event, a limited-time-only production.  Where I live, it rained for the last time in April… and then again today, the first day of November.

This means, of course, that it’s extremely exciting when it does happen at last.  I’m writing this in the thrilling afterglow of a soaking, sparkling world, a world drenched clean for the first time in months and months.

But you shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that rain is always completely welcome.  When it does rain, sometimes it rains fast and furious.  The bone-dry gutters and sewers fill up immediately, and flooding that washes out roads is a regular occurrence here in the winter months.

And then, too, it’s a dirty rain, the first few times it comes down.  We live in a desert.  This means that roofs and trees and almost every outdoor surface is paved with dust and filth by the middle of fall when rain starts thinking about heading our way.  Cars are streaked, laundry splattered with mud, and windows are a disaster.

But those first drops from the sky – how miraculous.  How odd.

The three-times-daily Shemoneh Esrei prayer contains a special insertion praising God as the one “who causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall.”  We say this from now – mid-Fall – until Pesach – mid-Spring – but never in the summer, when the most we can hope for is the pale summer substitute, “who causes the dew to fall.”

They say the Inuit have 70 words for snow, although I’m told that’s an exaggeration.   But it is fair to say that the Hebrew language has many marvellous words for rain in all its various gentle and merciful or brutish torrential forms.  A couple of weeks ago, in parshas Ha’azinu, we read three of them:  יַעֲרֹף כַּמָּטָר לִקְחִי,  {ס}  תִּזַּל כַּטַּל אִמְרָתִי,  {ר}  כִּשְׂעִירִם עֲלֵי-דֶשֶׁא,  {ס}  וְכִרְבִיבִים עֲלֵי-עֵשֶׂב / My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew; as the small rain upon the tender grass, and as the showers upon the herb (Devarim 32:2).  Matar, tal, se’irim and revivim.  That’s a whole lot of names for water falling from the sky.

Jews all over the world mention two other names for rain in the Shema, the prayer we say twice a day:  yoreh and malkosh, usually translated as “former-rains” and “latter-rains.”  I never had any clue what this meant, though I suspected it had something to do with the seasons in Israel, so foreign and removed from my life as a Diaspora Jew.

And it does, as I now know.  Yoreh is the early rain, the rain you are desperately hoping and praying for – literally praying, as Jews all over the world spent last Monday praying the annual “Tefillas Geshem,” or prayer for rain.  And malkosh is the rain you are sick of but continue praying for nonetheless, because this is a country which desperately depends on water, which would crack and crumble into the sea were the rain not to keep falling as it should, as it must.

Rain is an annoyance here just as it is anywhere else.  There’s laundry to be done, and like many Israelis, I don’t own a dryer, so an entire season of glancing at the sky to plan my washloads can be a hassle.  Houses here aren’t centrally-heated, either, so a season of rain can get plenty damp and cold.  Schools and parks and sidewalks and playgrounds aren’t planned well around rain, since we get so little of it, so chances are, you and your kids will end up soaked and shivering and soggy all over on a regular basis.

For some nonsensical reason, mittens and hats and winter boots proliferate where I live despite the total absence of snow in our recorded history – yet rainwear, besides umbrellas – seems oddly scarce.

And as for umbrellas… well, don’t hold your breath.  An umbrella will do little for you in Israel.  We pray to God in the Shemoneh Esrei as the one “who causes the window to blow and the rain to fall.”  Well, we mean it, and apparently, so does God.  The rain comes with wind, which is often not a gentle stirring but a turbulent unleashing of powerful forces of nature.

Umbrellas are for sale everywhere here, but most will not last through a single good storm, leaving you standing unprotected, feeling not only drenched but ripped off and annoyed.  Their shiny steel skeletons litter the sidewalks of the country, abandoned, unmemorialized where they fell in the line of duty.

But wind is nothing. On Yom Kippur, back when the Bais Hamikdash still stood, the kohen gadol would pray for the inhabitants of the Sharon valley that their homes should not be destroyed in the annual mudslides that were apparently a regular occurrence in the time the prayerbook was being composed.  The wording is ominous: the prayer asks that their homes not become their graves.

Because rain is certainly a blessing, but it can be a terror as well.

Today, the wind is blowing.  The rain is falling.  And hope fills the land.

May it be a plentiful rain – a rain of blessing, of peace, of comfort for us and for all of bnei Yisrael, all over the world.

About the Author
A journalist, editor, translator and children's writer, Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod made aliyah with her family to the krayot, north of Haifa, in 2013. She's the author of dozens of books for Jewish children and families - click to find out more.