PEOPLE PADDLE on stand-up boards in Lake Kinneret.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
I have always been fascinated by rain. When I was young, I would sit by the large picture window in our living room and watch the rain for hours on end. During the summer in Chicago – where, unlike here in Israel, summer rain is a constant occurrence – I would sometimes cast aside my umbrella and walk through the warm showers, enjoying every bit of those glorious sprinkles.
Even now, in the middle of the night, when I see flashes of lightning illuminating my bedroom window and hear the sound of thunder, I will sit up in bed and “soak it all in.”
Jewish literature is filled with references to rain and its spiritual connection to God, humanity in general and the Jewish people in particular. Rain is essential to life – nothing lives, or grows, without a precious supply of heaven’s precipitation. Water nourishes us when we drink it, cook with it, or use it to irrigate our crops. It surrounded the world when God created the earth, and it surrounds each fetus as it grows in its mother’s womb. Water comprises a significant majority of our body; 73% of our heart and brain is water, 79% of our muscles, 83% of our lungs. Plants depend on water to produce energy in photosynthesis. Says the Midrash, “Without rain, the earth could not endure,” and the Talmud in Masechet Ta’anit 8b adds, “The day when rain falls is as great as the day on which heaven and earth were created.”
Rain is a reflection of both God’s beneficence and power. It nurtures the world on a perpetual basis, yet it was also the instrument that God employed to punish humanity when it overstepped its boundaries and perverted its mission. We Jews are acutely aware of the Divine source of rain, and so we pray – particularly during Israel’s rainy season – that rain in goodly amounts should grace our land. Israel, says the Torah, is unlike other countries, which are watered from below, by springs; we look up, not down, for our source of sustenance. Today, Israel has become a technological giant in the field of desalination – we opened our first desalination plant 20 years ago in Eilat and now have five more – and desalination, along with water reclamation, now provides roughly half of our water needs. We recapture an amazing 85% of water that goes down the drain and use it for irrigation, far more than the second most-efficient country in the world, Spain, which recycles a mere 19%.
But we still are in drought mode, with the Kinneret, as of this writing, remaining 5.46 meters lower than the optimum upper red line, and just 0.61 meters higher than the historic lowest water level ever measured in the lake. As our family conducts a Passover program each year overlooking the Kinneret, we are particularly sensitized toward preserving this magnificent national treasure.
Rain, in the opinion of the Rabbis, is a perfect example of the partnership between man and God. God delivers the rain, but we provide the prayers that induce God’s gift (indeed, in synagogues throughout Israel we have been saying a special prayer for rain for more than a month). And while the Hebrew word for rain, geshem, is connected to gashmiut, the Hebrew term for materialism – as rain, particularly in an agricultural society, is synonymous with prosperity – water is also used as a metaphor for Torah study and practice. One purifies the body, the other purifies the soul; both are necessary for the well-balanced Jew. And just as water seeks its own level, so Torah is suitable and meaningful for every level of religiosity, as evidenced by the amazing growth of Torah learning today in non-observant circles.
This partnership also bids us to do our share to conserve water, and to respect its use. Among the many suggestions for doing this:
• Immediately fix all leaks in sinks and toilets, which can waste huge amounts of water;
• Flush only when necessary, and then in half-flushes; 30% to 40% of household water use literally gets flushed down the toilets! • Use water-efficient shower-heads, and turn the shower off between soaping and rinsing. If you shower every day for 10 minutes, this can save 80,000 liters per year!
• Don’t let the water run needlessly when washing dishes or brushing teeth;
• Run only full loads in dishwashers and don’t rinse off dishes before loading;
• Capture any water you can, and use it for outdoor gardens.
In Jewish life, we recite a blessing for virtually every manifestation of nature: thunder, lightning, rainbows, earthquakes, even volcanic eruptions. Why, then, do we not have a blessing for rain? The answer, I suggest, is that rain itself is a blessing! Nature has worlds of knowledge to teach us. All we have to do is listen to the falling rain, listen to the rain.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana; email@example.com