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V'sain Tal U'Matar - Asking for Rain

Beginning on December 4 or 5 each year, we (who live in the Diaspora) insert in the ninth blessing in the Shemonah Esrei, the blessing in which we ask G-d for a year of prosperity, the words "and give dew and rain." Those who live in Israel start inserting these words on the seventh day of the month of Cheshvan. Why do we add these words, and why is there a difference in the starting dates between the Diaspora and the land of Israel?

The reason why we add these words is clearly because we are asking Hashem for rain. In the land of Israel, rain during all of the winter months which follow Sukkos is crucial to the growth and success of the crops. We therefore add a request for rain as soon as the winter/rainy season starts, which is right after Sukkos ends. In truth, we should start putting in the request for rain right after Sukkos ends instead of waiting until the seventh day of Cheshvan. We wait to make this request as a matter of courtesy. When the Temple was existing in Jerusalem, people from all over used to make the journey to Jerusalem and the Temple for the holiday of Sukkos. For the people coming from the far ends of the land of Israel, this was a long journey, taking days. It would not be proper to start asking for rain right after Sukkos ended because there would be people who would still be traveling back home, and who, if it rained, would be discomforted and inconvenienced. We therefore wait until the seventh of Cheshvan, as by that time all who made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem will have returned home. Only then do we start asking for rain.

Why, outside of Israel, do we start adding these words on either December 4 or 5? In the land of Bavel, rain was not needed as much as it was in the land of Israel. Therefore, in Bavel, the nation of Israel started asking for rain when they needed it, which was 60 days after the Tekufas Tishrei. Tekufas Tishrei (in this context) refers to the autumn equinox. The sixtieth day after the equinox was the point in the autumn/winter that, beginning then, rain was needed to assure the success of the crops. The sixtieth day after the equinox will always be either December 4 or 5, and therefore the request for rain will always start at that time.

From the difference between the starting dates in Israel and Bavel, it appears that the starting date is really dependent upon where you live. It seems that one should start requesting rain when it is needed in the country that one lives in. Why then, do all people in all countries start inserting the request at the same time that the request was made in Bavel? This is a question that many great sages grappled with. The answer is that there is a blanket rule that in the Diaspora, we follow the customs that were observed in Bavel. Although in this context we may not understand why we follow the custom of Bavel, we nevertheless do such, as that is the tradition that we have.

There is a question that still remains. Above, we gave reasons for why we do not start inserting this request for rain right after Sukkos. However, we know that on Shemini Atzeres (the "eight day" of Sukkos, see post # 48 ) we begin adding the words "He makes the wind blow and He makes the rain descend" in the second blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei. We start making this addition at this time because the season in which rain is needed is beginning. If that is the case, why do we start this addition right after Sukkos, while the other addition is delayed for one reason or another?

There is a difference between the two additions. The addition that starts on Shemini Atzeres is termed a "hazkara," an acknowledgment or a remembrance. By saying these words, we acknowledge that G-d has power over rain. It therefore fitting that we start acknowledging this power at the time it first becomes evident, which is at the beginning of the rainy reason. However, as we mentioned, it is not proper (or necessary) to start asking for rain at this time. The second addition that we make, in the ninth blessing, is a request for rain. This addition is termed a "she'ailah," an entreaty. We pray that rain should fall only at the time when it is needed. That is why the second addition begins either on the seventh of Cheshvan (in the land of Israel) or


 

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