Tuesday, September 28, 2010

T'fillat Geshem

As the chagim draw to a close, the Jewish people are offered one more chance to ensure their seal in the Book of Life on Hoshana Rabba, a serious day in a holiday known for its happiness. The following day, Sukkot turns into "atzeret" which is perhaps best translated as addition or conclusion. Among the special t'fillot of the day (including, in Israel, all of the appropriate inclusions for Simchat Torah), is t'fillat geshem. A translation with a few notes from the Orthodox Union is available here. The notes offered there are quite helpful.

A careful read of the stanza's of the piyut(liturgical poem) yields an image of very powerful forces. Water provides and sustains life, the absence of it is deadly. An abundance of water is potentially destructive, and water in an inappropriate place or during an inappropriate time is equally problematic. Fire, water, and blood, are referenced repeatedly in the piyut. Fire and water, are commonly seen as opposites, while water and blood are representations of life(one of the reasons for washing our hands with water after returning from the cemetery). We go to great lengths to avoid the ingestion or consumption of blood, in some cases it is a sources of ritual impurity, which we are instructed to avoid in nearly every situation. Water is generally a purifying force (another reason for post cemetery washing), and on Yom Kippur during the Temple service, the blood of certain animals purifies Israel of sin. Each of the above elements are recalled in reference to a section of the Biblical narrative. In some ways this is the ultimate z'chut avot (merits of the Fathers [anscestors]).

In an earlier post I discussed the importance of dew as viewed through the lens of Israel. Over the past few days, and possibly in the coming days, rain has been plentiful in sections of the East Coast of the United States. As such, I can imagine that on Thursday it will be particularly difficult to stand during t'fillat geshem, and request rain, having possibly slogged through a downpour just to get to synagogue. I hope that those outside of Israel can understand the importance of, and the need for rain inside Israel. Last year Israel did not receive enough rain, and without technological advances, experts felt that thousands could have died. With that in mind, every body should attempt to be fully present as we beseech God for rain. May this year's rain be plentiful, for a blessing, and not for a curse.

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