Morid HaGeshem: The Prayer for Rain
Outside the autumn sky shines blue and the leaves turn golden. There are no clouds in the sky, yet today is the day that we pray for rain. It is Shemini Atzeret.
Judaism is such an ancient religion. I love that there is an aspect of this ancient religion that follows an agricultural calendar. Our three major festivals each involve something that pertains to agriculture and the harvest, so it should be of no surprise that rain is vitally important to a people dependent on a relatively small amount of rain to nourish their crops and their people.
My knowledge base isn't deep enough to do a thorough examination of the importance of rain in Judaism, but here just a few sources that I'd like to point out in this post.
The second paragraph of the Shema details the idea of reward and punishment as it pertains to rain. Follow the Mitzvot and the sky will open up and give you ample water for your crops; neglect to follow the Mitzvot and the skies will close and your crops will severely suffer. A scary paragraph indeed. When I read this paragraph I cringe every time.
2. The Talmud discusses rain in great detail. Like the Inuit, who have scores of ways to refer to snow, the rabbis have differentiated the different types of rain that exist. (Ohr Sameach) There is an extended discussion about when to begin to pray for rain and when we should pray just for dew. For more information on this fascinating discussion, a good place to begin would be this article in Tablet magazine and this one from the Schechter Institute.
3. The third important reference to rain is inserted into our the Amida twice a year. On Shemini Atzeret we begin to pay for rain by adding the words Mashiv Haruach U'Morid HaGeshem (who makes the wind blow and brings the rain down) to the Amida prayer. We say this each until the end of the Passover holiday when we change this phrase to Morid HaTal, (who brings the dew). The elegant prayer that is recited at synagogue is listed here.
Our ancient Jewish holidays, in addition to being religious experiences, are opportunities for us to pay attention, to open our eyes to climate issues. Rainfall is a great place to start. Gardeners, golfers, outdoor enthusiasts pay attention to the weather in the spring and summer. We all pay attention to the giant hurricanes that come to the east coast in the late summer and to the forecasts for blizzards in the winter, but perhaps we can think, if not more deeply, to at least be more aware of rainfall and how it affects our lives.
Here are a few facts about rain:
I took a peek at the different types of rain that exist. I was intrigued knowing that Inuits and other indigenous peoples have a huge number of terms for ice and snow. When I talk about rain I generally say just a few things, "It is pouring or drizzling or misty" so I looked up the various types of rain that exist and here is what I found:
Taken from Sciencing.com
Conventional rainfall: Air naturally rises when it heats up, and it cools when it reaches higher elevations. Cool air can't hold as much moisture as warm air, so the moisture condenses into clouds known as cumulus clouds. Eventually, the clouds become so laden with moisture that rain starts to fall. This can happen over land or water as long as moisture is present. When it happens over tropical oceans, where the air is saturated with water, intense heat can cause strong upward convention currents. The combination of wind and moisture can create a tropical storm or hurricane.
Orographic rainfall: When moisture-laden air encounters a mountain range, the air is forced to rise. It cools off at the higher elevation, and this condenses water out of the air and creates rainfall. If the temperature is cold enough, the precipitation falls as snow.
Frontal rainfall: The meeting of a large mass of cold air and a large mass of warm air is called a front. The meeting creates turbulence. A frontal rain diagram can illustrate how the warm air rises over the cold air and forms large clouds when it cools, and moisture condenses. Thunderstorms, complete with lightning, usually result, and they can last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or more.
Monsoonal rainfall: The combination of the sun's heat and the Earth's rotation creates a band of easterly winds at 30 degrees north and south latitude. These winds blow all year, but they change direction with the seasons. This seasonal shift is responsible for monsoon rains that fall in India, Southeast Asia and other places.
And from The Farmer's Almanac's Remarkable Facts About Rain
Check out these interesting tidbits about rain:
Rain, also known as precipitation, occurs not only on Earth but also in our solar system. However the rain we experience is very different from rain on other planets. For example Venus’s rain is composed of sulfuric acid that never reaches that planet’s surface due to its intense heat. Scientists also confirm that rain occurs on Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus.
The amount of precipitation that falls around the world ranges from less than 0.1 inch per year in some deserts to more than 900 inches per year in the tropics.
Iquique, Chile, is one of the driest areas on Earth and no rain fell for 14 years.
On the other side of the puddle, Mt. Waialeale, Hawaii, averages more than 451 inches of rain each year.
One inch of rain falling on 1 acre of ground is equal to about 27,154 gallons and weighs about 113 tons.
Most agree that 1 inch of rain is equal to about 13 inches of snow, however, according to NOAA, this ratio can vary from two inches for sleet to nearly fifty inches for very dry, powdery snow under certain conditions.
Raindrops average around .02 inches to about .031 inches in diameter, and without wind, usually fall at the rate of 7-18 miles per hour.
So, next time you are at synagogue and say the Amida and add the extra phrase for either rain or dew, know that the history of adding this phrase is long and complex, that there was an enormous amount of discussion in the Talmud that went into adding that phrase and when it is added. There is spirituality in the phrase and a triangular connection between our own adherence to behavior here on earth, to the clouds above and then to God. Whether we believe in all those connections or not, we all hope for normal rainfall in any given year; rainfall that is clean and clear and nourishes the earth and us.
“Rainfall is as wondrous as the creation of heaven and earth” (Tractate Ta’anit 7b);