Shmini Atzeret: Praying for Rain

This Essay is dedicated to the memory of the four holy souls cut down by heinous acts of terror as they celebrated the festival of joy. These special heroes will celebrate the festival of Shemini Atzeret in the heavens above together with Moses, King David and all the Jewish heroes of our past. As we celebrate with joy let us not forget those who lost their loved ones. May G-d send comfort and consolation to the families of Rabbi and Mrs Henkin, Rabbi Lavi and Aron  Bennet

In memory of Rabbi Eitam Henkin, Rebbetzin Nama Henkin, Rabbi Nechemiah Lavi and Aron Bennet. May G-d send a complete recovery to Adel Bat Miriam, peace and security to the Jewish people wherever they may be.

Rain and Due

There are many differences between rain and dew. Dew is constant, rain only falls when precipitation is in the air. Dew has no season, rain has a season. Dew makes everyone happy, rain interferes with wayfarers. In fact, when Jews petitioned G-d for rain, G-d replied that He will give them even more than they asked for. He will give them dew, which falls constantly and makes everyone happy.[1]

Understanding the difference between rain and dew prompts us to ask why we pray for rain on Shmini Atzeret at the end of Sukkot and for dew on the first day of Passover. Granted we pray for each in its proper time. We pray for rain in the beginning of the (Israeli) rain season and for dew when the (Israeli) rain season is over. But this is only the practical, surely there is a more substantive link between our prayers and the time that we offer them. Indeed, why did G-d make it so that the rain season would fall during Sukkot and the dew season during Passover?

The Spiritual Nature

The sporadic nature of rainfall represents the Divine posture of justice, providing only what we deserve. The mystical reason that rain is more plentiful at some times than others is that the world is more deserving at some times than it is at others.

(The reason rain is scarcer in Israel than elsewhere though Israel is holier and therefore more deserving is because its own holiness works against it. A sin committed in a holy place is a greater offense than a sin committed in a mundane place. Thus it requires more work to be deserving in Israel than elsewhere. Simply put, the bar in Israel is higher than anywhere else.)

Dew represents the Divine posture of kindness and generosity. Giving with no consideration of worthiness. From G-d’s perspective the worthy and the unworthy pale equally. Before Him, how can we count for anything? Thus, He gives at all times to all people. Whether deserving or not.

A Time for Each

At times G-d assumes a posture of justice and at times He assumes a posture of kindness.

When the world is in need of kindness because it is terribly undeserving, G-d opts for kindness rather than justice. He knows at such times that if He were to assume a justice posture, He might need to destroy the world. He doesn’t go there. He opts instead for kindness.

When the world is in a state of worthiness, G-d turns to the posture of justice.[2] At such times He knows He can afford to be just because there is plenty of opportunity to provide justly. People will be eminently deserving and thus G-d will not need to deprive. Even the guilty can be provided for because if they don’t deserve in their own right, they can be granted in the merit of the righteous.

The Cycle of the Year

We now understand why the end of Sukkot is the right time to pray for rain and Passover is the right time to pray for dew. Historically, Passover was the time of our national infancy. At that time we were new to Judaism and had no merit of our own. We could not ask for anything on the basis of our worthiness so we threw ourselves on G-d’s mercy.

Sukkot, which comes after the Days of Awe and specifically Yom Kippur, when all our sins were atoned, is a perfect time to pray for rain. At this time we are free of sin and carry lots of merit. We have yet to accumulate much in the way of sin, busy as we were with preparations for and celebrations of the holidays. Loaded with merit, this is the right time to ask for rain - the blessing given only on the basis of worthiness.

Of course the rain will fall sporadically throughout the year, even when we are not entirely worthy. But that is because we were wise enough to strike while the iron was hot and ask for it when we were worthy.

The Cycle of the Season

We mentioned earlier that G-d assumes postures of kindness or justice as necessary. Indeed, we see this in the cycle of seasons, which follow the needs of the people.

When the people are spiritually robust just after the High Holidays, it is rain season in Israel. Rain as we explained represents G-d’s posture of justice, when He gives only to those who are worthy. Since we are all worthy after Yom Kippur and can justly afford to ask for blessing, G-d affixed the rain season in this time and instructed us to pray for rain.

Around the time of Passover, the time symbolic of spiritual infancy, six or sometimes seven months after Yom Kippur, G-d assumes the posture of kindness and this too reflected in the season. In Israel, Passover represents the end of the rain season. Accordingly, we stop praying for rain and ask instead for dew, the gift that is given freely.[3]


[1] Babylonian Talmud: Taanit 4a.

[2] He prefers justice at such times because it is ultimately more rewarding to earn our reward than we receive it our of the giver’s kindness. If He can give it justly, He prefers it.

[3] This essay is based on a 1920 treatise by Shem Mishmuel on Shmini Atzeret.