Because Sometimes it Rains on Your Sukkah

by Sarah Chandler

Geshem Be’ito (Acceptance of Rain in Its Time)
The following essay will be published in the forthcoming book of teachings “Good Noticing” published by the Institute for Jewish Spirituality.

The rhythms of the Jewish calendar may not coincide with your particular climate. At times, our traditional rituals may range from the impractical to the impossible. For example, in the Northern Hemisphere, calling upon light in the darkness of Chanukah in Kislev/December always resonates, but singing about blossoming trees in Shevat/January may not make sense. How can we stay true to our tradition when the weather doesn’t cooperate? And as mindfulness practitioners, how might we elevate the news of undesirable weather?

Those of us who live in the Northeastern United States are usually blessed with bountiful precipitation year-round. Furthermore, our religion is no longer based on the careful balance between following God’s laws and receiving in return enough rain for our crops to survive. The Reform movement even removed the second paragraph of the Shema from prayer books to make the bold statement: we are modern Jews—we do not believe that we can influence God to change the weather by keeping the commandments of our tradition.

Recent evidence suggests that even the anticipation of rainy weather can influence our moods, as well as those around us. Now imagine there’s a Jewish holiday that is focused on praying for an entire six month season of rain. How might we reconcile honoring the Jewish calendar with trying to maintain our spirits?

The traditional Jewish relationship with rain is unique in that we only have prayers for rain, not for sunshine. We say Birkat Geshem (the prayer for rain) on Shemini Atzeret as the rainy season begins in Israel. In this prayer, we ask God not only for rain but for the right amount of rain, livracha velo liklala (for a blessing and not a curse); rain that will sustain a people with fertile crops, not drown them in torrential floods.

Not only are there no prayers for “no rain”; our tradition has a prayer that pre-emptively annuls any prayers against rain. In the Yom Kippur Avodah service (which most communities no longer include) the following prayer of the high priest is recited: “When the world is in need of rain, do not permit the prayers of the travelers with regard to rain to gain entrance before You.”

Knowing that any anti-rain prayers will be ignored, we can return to the practice of acceptance. The rain will fall in its season. Disappointment upon news of undesirable skies is an opportunity for mindfulness. Allow yourself to be with the gloominess, if this is what comes up. Then, make new plans for a movie night, baking cookies, or a puddle jumping contest. Consider for yourself: how might this rain be a blessing and not a curse?

May your observance of Shemini Atzeret be an opportunity for appreciation of the rhythm of the seasons. May news of rain or other inconvenient weather patterns bring you into a practice of acceptance and blessing for you and for the earth.

Sarah Chandler has been a Teva educator for over ten years and is the Director of Earth Based Spiritual Practice at Hazon’s Adamah Farm at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center. She is coordinating this year’s Hazon Food Conference: Poultry Pollinators and Policy taking place at Isabella Freedman.

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