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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

Abba Hilkia's Wife

Updated: Dec 12, 2021

In Ta'anit 23b, there is the story of Abba Hilkia and his wife .

The story is long and it is fascinating and I hope that you will take the time to read it from the source before you read this little story/poem.

The Masechet of Ta'anit speaks of fasts. Why we fast, how we fast and when we fast. Fasting for rain to come is featured prominently in the Masechet. There is a portion where people are cited who can bring the rain because they have found favor in God's eyes. Among these people is Abba Hilkia, who was the grandson of Honi the Circle Maker.

In this story, Abba Hilkiya is asked to bring the rain, but instead it is his wife, who is nameless, who brings the rain. I created this piece to briefly write her story as she remains nameless in the text. It was said that it was because of the quiet good deeds she achieved from inside her home that she merited the blessing of rain.

If you missed it, I am in the midst of a project where I add a representative photograph of each of the pages of this masechet (book or chapter or tractate). You can find it here:

Abba Helkia's Wife

Perhaps her name was Devorah,

or perhaps Yael or Tamar?

She rose from her bed that morning

washed her hands, covered her hair

and dressed.

She prayed the morning prayers,

fed her children from the little they had

and began the work of her day.

She opened the front door to greet the day

and looked up.

The morning sky was blue and cloudless

and the sun began to warm the dry earth

and the song of a mourning dove came from nearby.

When would the rain come?

She studied the sky.

Perhaps today would be the day.

Perhaps today it would rain?

She began the work of making bread.

grinding it fine.

She loved the sound of the grinder.

She measured the flour carefully for the bread,

careful not to use too much

and she added water and yeast.

She kneaded the dough,

She pounded and folded,

took challah

and then baked it on the fire.

As the warm scent of bread filled the house

and her belly growled.

She swept the floor and washed it clean

and tended to her sons.

In the stew for the midday meal she put onions,

garlic, field greens and lentils,

making sure to make extra for those

whose larders were emptier than her own;

as many came searching for food,

their eyes pleading

in this time of great drought.

As she cooked, she daydreamed

of green barley fields

and cisterns full of cold water.

She dreamed of the smell of rain,

hovering in the air

like the scent of lemons and cool mint,

to remove the worry from people's eyes,

so she prayed quietly.

The words flowed like water from her lips.

Abba Hilkiya's wife went to the door

the noon sun was hot and she shaded her eyes

as the dust rose from the road.

She saw her husband approach for the afternoon meal.

Two men were with him.

She hastened to set the noon meal

and welcomed the guests.

She was surprised when her husband did not invite.

Not to feed guests was unheard of in her home,

but she said nothing

and when she met her husband's eyes

she knew that there was something behind this action.

Sometimes silence says more than words.

Her husband had a gift as his grandfather did.

He could bring the rains,

but the rains had not come,

so they ate their meal in silence,

their thoughts on yellowing fields and vineyards.

The walls echoed the sounds of their chewing.

After the meal, after their prayer,

after her children went to sit in the shade of tree nearby,

her husband and the guests surveyed the sky.

The heat was bright white

as the sun blazed in their eyes from above

and they quickly looked down.

Would rain ever come?

It was the time to pray for rain

so she and her husband climbed the old ladder to the roof.

He stood far from her in a corner and began his prayers.

He prayed and beseeched and cried that rain should come

His shoulders rocked like a storm

his arms raised to the sky,

but the sky remained a stubborn blue

like the inside of a hot flame.

Abba Hilkiya's wife stared up at the sky

and then closed her eyes and lowered her head.

Quiet words bubbled like water from her mouth.

Words of prayer,

rivers of hope came from deep within her.

They were the words of a mother,

words that need no sound,

the words of a woman

who bakes the bread, who cleans the floor,

who cares for others,

who worries about others more than

she worries about herself.

Abba Hilkiya's wife opened her eyes

and once again looked upwards.

Above her a gray cloud formed,

as in the days of creation.

It grew heavy and mushroomed,

while other gray clouds joined it.

She inhaled deeply

and she smelled the perfume of rainclouds

and she blessed the moment.

Tears flowed from her eyes

as the raindrops fell toward the thirsty earth.

One, two, hundreds, thousands of

raindrops fell.

The sound of rain falling like blast of a shofar.

The children below them began to laugh

and joyously ran through the streets.

Neighbors opened their doors and stood in the rain

their arms open and their lips smiling.

Abba Hilkiya's wife looked at her husband

and her husband looked at her.

Once again a message silently passed between them.

It is in the small actions that she took,

this quiet woman, this gentle woman.

She thought not of herself, but others,

and this brought the blessing of rain.

Together, Abba Hilkiya's wife and her husband

descended the ladder.

One by one they reached the soaked earth

and it was very good.

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