Parashat B'hukotai

The Blessing of Rain

We must pray for beneficial rain, and then follow through with environmental action.

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This commentary is provided by special arrangement with Canfei Nesharim. To learn more, visit www.canfeinesharim.org.

Praying for rain is a key part of the spiritual life of a Jew. For almost half of the year, our daily prayers include praise of God as the One who "makes the wind blow and the rain descend" and a request that God will "give dew and rain for a blessing on the face of the earth."

A special blessing for rain appears in the liturgy of the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, at the beginning of Israel's rainy season. We pray that the Divine bring beneficial rain, which falls at the right time to nourish our crops and fill our reservoirs. As the Talmud says, "The day when rain falls is as great as the day on which heaven and earth were created (Ta'anit 8b)."

Rain as Blessing and Curse

But it is not enough to just pray for rain. The Torah teaches that our actions impact the rain as well. At the beginning of this week's Torah portion, B'hukotai, we read that rainfall is a function of our doing God's will. If Israel keeps the Torah, God says, "I will give your rains in their time, the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit... you will eat your food to satiety, and you will live in security in your land, and I will grant peace in the Land (Leviticus 26:4-6)."

canfei nesharimThis promise of abundant rains and prosperity is followed by a warning that, should Israel ignore the Torah, God will "make your skies like iron"--cease all rains and bring drought, according to the Midrash. Conversely, the fact that we specifically ask that the rain be "for a blessing" acknowledges that too much rain is just as dangerous as not enough. 

In a number of instances in the Tanakh, God sent rain that was a curse, not a blessing. The Flood came to punish the generation for transgressing God's will. Rashi explains that the rains of blessing became a destructive flood when the people refused to repent. In the time of the prophet Samuel, God brought thunder and rain to chastise the people (Samuel I 12:17-18).

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Jonathan Neril

Jonathan Neril is the project manager of the Jewish Environmental Parsha Initiative. He is a rabbinical student in his fourth year of Jewish learning in Israel. He received an MA and BA at Stanford with a focus on global environmental issues.