Given the agricultural
economy of ancient Israel and the long dry spells that were the reality of Palestinian
climate, praying for rain or dew, represented a central aspect of early worship.
The invocation of rain was a most serious matter, for drought meant hunger and
death. The date chosen for the chanting of the special prayer for rain was Shemini
Shemini Azeret (usually translated "the Eighth Day of Solemn Assembly")
is the concluding day of the Sukkot festival. During the holiday, the thousands
of pilgrims who would come to Jerusalem from all over Palestine, most of them
farmers, would watch anxiously the drift of the smoke from the altar in the
Temple. If it drifted toward the north, they looked forward to plenty of rain,
while if it turned toward the south they were apprehensive that the rain would
Shemini Azeret, a phrase celebrating God's power to bring the rain
"You cause the wind to blow and the rain to fall"
is inserted in the Amidah prayer, and recited until Passover. The praise of
God as the dispenser of rain is referred to in the Mishnah
which ordains that it should be mentioned together with the resurrection of
the dead, as both the sustenance of the living and the resurrection of the dead
are manifestations of the gevurot ("powers") of God. Another
prayer for rain is recited in the ninth blessing of the Amidah.
sOut of this
practice developed a special prayer called Geshem (Rain) which has become
the most distinctive feature of the day itself, as observed in the synagogue.
Although many such poems have been written, only those of Elazar Kallir
were actually introduced into the synagogue service.
Geshem takes into consideration the specific needs of the Land of Israel,
the custom of reciting it has been maintained after the exile, when Jews lived
in other countries and in different climes. When a number of Spanish exiles
settled in Brazil in the middle of the 17th century and found that the rainy
season there came at a different time of the year, they turned to a rabbi in
Salonica to inquire whether they would be justified in changing the recital
of the prayer for rain from the winter to the summer months. This interesting
question is the first recorded legal inquiry directed by Jews of the New World
to those of the Old. While this was permitted to them, the Geshem prayer
on Shemini Azeret still remained in vogue, as this was intended not merely as
a prayer but also as a historic reminiscence of the indissoluble relationship
of the Jews with the soil of Palestine.
Elazar Kallir's Geshem
is a composition of six piyyutim (liturgical poems); it ends with
a short petition for rain or for dew, the last words of which are "for
You are the Lord Who makes the wind blow and brings down the rain/dew,"
recalling the early phrase inserted in the Amidah prayer. The following
is an alphabetical acrostic in the original Hebrew. The six stanzas recount
righteous acts relating to water by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron
and the twelve tribes; God is implored to send rain, a source of blessing
for the land, for their sake. By offering this prayer at the beginning
of the rainy season in Israel, Jews everywhere affirm their eternal bond
with the Holy Land.
Ta'anit 1:2; Berakhot 5:2 [Back]
 Elazar Kallir is considered the greatest
and most prolific of the early liturgical poets and one of the most
influential. Although little biographical information is available
about his life, we do know that he lived in Erez Yisrael (and resided
in Tiberias) some time before the 8th century; his poems had a significant
influence on the formation of the festival prayers already in the
eighth and ninth centuries. [Back]
 Translation by Ben Zion Bokser. "The
Prayerbook: Weekday, Sabbath and Festivals" (New York: Hebrew Publishing
Co., 1946) [Back]
The Sukkot/Simhat Torah Anthology. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication
Society, 1973, 1988. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
RAIN Table of Contents