Weather is a funny thing in Israel. On September 1, the summer is “over.” At the end of Simchas Torah, people heartily wish each other a good winter. The chagim have passed. School has begun (usually). Winter is here. Supposedly. But I don’t know - it hasn’t felt much like winter to me, with the scorching sun and above-80-degree weather we’ve had these past few weeks. After reciting tefilat geshem, we usually get a drop of drizzle here or there, just to let us know that our tefilot were heard. But despite the advertisements for sweaters and warm coats now being sold, there’s not much reminiscent of winter in these parts. I always wonder who exactly is buying those coats when many are still walking around in shorts and flip flops, and people are still heading to the beach. I would say that just looking at those ads for warm clothes is enough to make me sweat, but I’m usually sweating way before I even see the ads. We are still using our air conditioning at home and we are not yet able keep up with our family’s demand for ice (no, we don’t have an automatic ice-maker in the door of our fridge). Last week we started to say “V’ten tal u’matar.” “Winter is now upon us,” people say in earnest. Personally, I wouldn’t call it winter exactly, but it seems we may be beginning to ever so slowly turn the corner. The days are still warm, but not brutal. Towards evening, something that almost resembles a chill can be felt in the air, and sightings of people wearing sweaters is a distinct possibility. But winter? Not the term that comes to mind. But then the other night came the rain! Real heavy rain! Cats and dogs. Complete with thunder and lightning - the kind that wakes you up in the middle of the night with a bang.
Rain is a very big deal in Israel. It’s the first thing children in gan learn about right after the chagim. Then they eagerly anticipate the opening of the skies when they can see with their own eyes and physically feel on their tender bodies all that they have learned about. The forecast of rain, particularly the first one of the season, is prime news. It’s the buzz. Hatzolah sends out announcements warning people to drive with caution in order to keep safe in the potentially treacherous driving conditions that often accompany the first rain. The danger comes from the everyday buildup of tar, rubber, oil, and grease, which aren’t continually washed away during the long months when there is no rain at all. When the rain does come, this buildup rises to the surface, causing roads to be extremely slippery. Chats are filled with reminders for people to make sure that their outside drains are not covered with dirt, leaves, or anything else which can cause flooding. Within minutes of the first drops of rain hitting the ground, the little children are out frolicking about in their shiny boots and colorful umbrellas. Their youthful excitement is contagious.
Rain is not something that is at all taken for granted here. Even when rain can be uncomfortable or inconvenient at times, you will rarely hear people complaining about rain here. And if they do, it is immediately followed by a statement of recognition that we do need the rain. Whether Hashem does or doesn’t send us rain is not random. It is actually very personal. He is talking directly to us. We daven for rain that should be for the good. It should be at a convenient time and in the right measure. It should be “l’vracha, v’lo l’klala,” for a blessing and not for a curse. But we are warned that if Hashem is angry at us, He will close up the sky and there will be no rain. We can’t hide from the facts and attribute this treatment from Hashem to anyone but ourselves. So, when we have a drought, which is unfortunately more frequent than we would like, we say a special tefilah and even fast when it gets really bad. Anything to remove the dreadful decree. And then, we need to take a good honest look at ourselves. What are we doing wrong? What is Hashem trying to tell us?
Last winter we were truly blessed with an unusual amount of rain. The Kinneret reached a level it hadn’t seen in decades. That, too, was the talk of the town. People traveled all the way up north just to see the Kinneret in all its glory. The beautiful scenery of the Kinneret was a sight to behold as was the expression on the faces of the visitors who watched in awe and appreciation as the powerful current overflowed its banks.
Israel has seemingly “solved” its water problem to a certain degree by making much headway in the area of water desalination. This can potentially lead us to a fate similar to that of the snake in Gan Eden, who was punished by having all of its needs easily met and not having to turn to Hashem, thereby not connecting to Him. It is important for us to remember that even if we have ways of attaining water other than through rain, our rain, success, and all that we have ultimately comes from Hashem.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.