I was just asked about whether Jews, especially here in Texas during this brutal drought of record-breaking heat, do or say anything to acknowledge the need for rain. While my congregation, Kol Halev, has not done anything formal in that regard, the question prompted me to reflect on the ways Jews do encounter, daily, the idea of rain in our liturgy.
1) A series of blessings recited three times daily on non-Sabbath days includes a specific petition that God “provide blessing upon the land and satiate us with Divine goodness, blessing our year like the good years (of old).” In the winter (the rainy season in the climate of the Land of Israel), the blessing is amended to say “provide dew and rain for a blessing upon the land…” — so, for part of the year we ask for rain explicitly. The idea behind the seasonal distinction is that rain wasn’t expected during the summer months in a Mediterranean climate that is different from ours here; but for us, we know we need rain during the summer in order for us and the land to be blessed fully with Divine goodness — so clearly, our expectation is that the good for which we pray will require rain. Thus, implicitly, we still ask for rain at this time.
2) Every morning and evening, Jews traditionally recite (as the second paragraph of the Sh’ma) Deuteronomy 11:13-21, which expresses the idea that if we are true to God’s ways, we will be blessed with rain that will grant us abundance, enabling us to eat and be satisfied; but that if we stray from that path, following “other gods,” God will close up the sky and there will be no rain, spelling doom for us all. While many (perhaps most) of us in today’s world don’t subscribe to a belief in a quid-pro-quo relationship between human actions and natural occurrences (or “acts of God”), we can remember two ideas. First, there is certainly evidence for a human role in fostering current climate change patterns, and that crisis ought to drive us towards an examination of our lust for the false gods of wealth, power, comfort, and convenience that have contributed to the natural effects we are now experiencing. It is possible that becoming more judicious in our consumption and more respectful of our ecosystem could restore balance to our climate. More significantly, though, is the basic idea of how much we have always valued rain and how much of a blessing it is. Even if it can’t be earned through our thoughts, prayers, or actions, our tradition reminds us how central it is to living a healthy and fulfilling existence. Receiving this reminder every day through the ritual recitation of verses of holy text allows us to reorient our priorities towards what really matters — a functioning ecosystem that allows for all life to flourish. This, in its own way, is also an ongoing prayer for rain.
May it come soon.