Religion & Beliefs

Jew Dew It

There are precisely two parts of Passover that I like. One is making my family’s charoset, which I do with an old meat grinder, as per my grandfather’s custom. The other is the prayer for dew, tefilat tal that we … Read More

By / April 11, 2007
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There are precisely two parts of Passover that I like. One is making my family’s charoset, which I do with an old meat grinder, as per my grandfather’s custom. The other is the prayer for dew, tefilat tal that we say on the first day of Passover. I missed tefilat tal because I wasn’t in walking distance of a synagogue on the first day of Passover, but I’ve been thinking a lot about it today since it’s pouring in Nashville. Twice every year Jews praise God for providing us with water and rain. On the last day of Sukkot, during the Musaf Amidah, we open the ark, and the person leading services dons his or her kitel and sings tefilat geshem, a special prayer that recalls all of the forefathers, plus Moses, Aaron, and the tribes of Israel. Each is connected to water. Abraham’s gardens were saved from fire and from water, Isaac’s blood was almost spilled at the sacrifice like water, Jacob struggled with a creature of fire and of water, Moses hit the rock and out came water, Aaron purified himself and the other priests with water, and the twelve tribes were lead through walls of water to freedom. At the end of each stanza of the poem we beseech God to grant us water (i.e. rain) in the coming months. It’s a really beautiful prayer, and one that I think about every time I hear that the Kinneret is at record low, which is pretty much always. For the next four months or so we add a line in the beginning of the Amidah asking God to cause the wind to blow and rain to fall. These four months are the rainy season in Israel, and if you’ve ever been in Jerusalem for a thunderstorm you know just how intense they can be. God is not kidding with that wind stuff, either.
Then, on the first day of Passover, during the musaf Amidah we open the ark again, the person leading services again dons a kitel, and we say tefilat tal, the prayer for dew. But where tefilat geshem focuses on the spiritual and theological history of water, tefilat tal is much more practical. We need dew in order for our agricultural work to be productive. Urban life, too, is dependent on dew, we remind God, and we connect the role of dew in maintaining livelihoods in Israel to the return of Jews from the Diaspora. Though similarly structured, and composed by the same guy who wrote tefilat Geshem, Rabbi Eleazar Ha-Kallir, who lived in 7th Century Palestine, it’s interesting that the prayers for rain and for dew are pretty different. It always struck me as weird that we don’t go ahead and ask God for rain even after the rainy season has pretty much ended. I mean, we could get lucky, right? And it’s not like we don’t still need rain after Pesach, it’s just less likely that we’ll get it because the wet season is almost over. I once asked a rabbi about this, and what he reminded me of the famous lines from Kohelet: 3:1-2

To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, And a time to die; A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted;

As Jews we have to recognize that there is a time for a rain, and a time for dew. We don’t get things randomly. Ours is a religion about respecting borders, and among the borders we have to respect are those of the seasons and the rains. We also have to learn to ask only for what we need without being greedy or wasteful. These are all messages that resonate with me post-Passover. As I helped friends pack up their Passover dishes and uncover their counters and toss out uneaten macaroons it occurred to me that one of the most challenging lessons of Passover is to buy and make only what we really need. There’s a tendency to freak out and buy every K for P product one can find, especially in places like Nashville, where there aren’t many to choose from. But every year, when we’re left with extra food what we should be thinking about is how to ask for and buy only what we really need without going overboard. You know how environmental activists are always goin on about sustainable ecosystems? This year, make a pact to make your kitchen a sustainable environment. It should be able to provide for you and your family, but think about cutting back on the extras. It’ll put more cash in your pocket, and maybe even a few extra drops of dew on the hills of Galilee.