It's time for the rain. We need it. And we read something surprising about it in Talmud*1*: "The day of rain is more important than the day of resurrection." Referring, of course, to the day in the time of the Mashiach when the souls of the righteous will be restored to their bodies. The day of rain is more important than the day of resurrection. It is Rabbi Abbahu who says this. His reasoning is this: on the day of resurrection, only the righteous will arise from the dead. But rain falls for all alike, the righteous and the wicked." Which means we're in luck.
Rabbi Yehudah sees Rabbi Abbahu and raises him one. He says, "The day of rain is as important as the day that Torah was given." He bases this on a series of textual connections. He starts with Moshe's great farewell poem, where he says,
יַעֲרֹף כַּמָּטָר לִקְחִי תִּזַּל כַּטַּל אִמְרָתִי
"Let my teaching (lekach in Hebrew) fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants."*2*
And what lekach is that? And by lekach I don't mean the Yiddish word for honeycake, but rather the Hebrew word for a teaching. What teaching is it that will fall like rain? The rabbis point to the same word, lekach, where it appears in the Book of Proverbs:
כִּי לֶקַח טוֹב נָתַתִּי לָכֶם תּוֹרָתִי אַל־תַּעֲזֹבוּ
Which means, "I have given you a good teaching: my Torah. Don't forsake it." So when you connect these verses, a lekach, or "teaching," comes to mean Torah. So it is Torah that falls like rain, like dew, like showers.
The rabbi known as Rava has to top Rabbi Yehudah on this, saying that a day of rain is not as important as the day Torah was given, but more important. His reasoning is this: if Moshe says that Torah shall pour forth like rain, then rain must be greater than Torah. Because when you make a simile, you compare a lesser thing to a greater thing. You might say, "That rainstorm was like a monsoon!" But you wouldn't say, "That monsoon was like a rainstorm!" So if Torah is like rain, then rain is the greater thing.
You might wonder why these guys are having this conversation at all. Well, it is in the context of talking about Sukkot. They are busy discussing the importance of rain because this is the holiday where we begin praying for rain every year. We insert rain words into the amidah. And for this week only we shake the lulav and etrog, our ancestral raindance, to simulate the sound of rain and stimulate its fall.
And they have to talk about this in some detail, because despite prayers for rain that begin this week, and despite all these rainmaking rituals, they didn't actually want the rain to hit while they were all sitting outside in the sukkah. So they had to struggle with what it meant to pray for something that you're not quite ready for yet.
Maybe that's how you become ready – prayer is not a demand but a practice. To get you ready. After all, you buy galoshes before the rain starts. You patch your roof and clean out your gutters. Praying for rain is like that – you invite the delicious flow of water from heaven into your consciousness in advance of inviting it into the world.
And water in our consciousness is every bit as nourishing as it is in the thirsty earth. It softens us. It fills our wells. It makes the hard seed pods burst open with a snap of green.
Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav teaches*3* that the word be'ur, which means the giving over of words of Torah, comes from the root be'er, which means a well. A well of water. We draw forth Torah like water from a well. And he reminds us of Miriam, whose soul was bound up with the well that followed the Children of Israel through the desert. It looked like a rock, and underneath there was always a deep well. Like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, whereyou could put a manhole cover down anywhere, and an actual manhole would manifest underneath it.
As long as Miriam was alive, the Israelites had water. When she died, the water went with her. It is Miriam's soul that continues to be the source of the flow of inspired Torah. When we tap into it, Torah comes. When we can't find it, we are back in the desert.
After Miriam died, Moshe tried to duplicate what Miriam had done, drawing water from a rock. But water wasn't really his element. He became angry and struck the rock with his staff. He eventually forced water out of it, but in the bargain lost his ticket to the Promised Land.
Rebbe Nachman takes heart from the image of water from the rock. Because for Rebbe Nachman, who had great highs and terrible lows, the rock in question was often his own heart.
כָּלָה שְׁאֵרִי וּלְבָבִי צוּר־לְבָבִי וְחֶלְקִי אֱלֹהִים לְעוֹלָם
Tzur l'vavi – "my heart is a rock," says the Psalm.*4* Which the psalmist might have meant, "my heart is strong." But Rebbe Nachman sees stubbornness and despair in the flinty heart. He answers that Psalm with another:*5*
פָּתַח צוּר וַיָּזוּבוּ מָיִם הָלְכוּ בַּצִּיּוֹת נָהָר
"God opened the rock, and the water gushed out; it ran in the dry places like a river."
This is what Rebbe Nachman wants above all. To be able to pour out his heart, to pour out his suffering through words in hitbodedut. To pour them out like water. He prays for his own heart to crack open and reveal a well beneath. And for Rebbe Nachman, like in our own prayers for rain, the words are a practice. When his heart won't spill, then he spills words about his heart's inability to spill. This is hitbodedut. The practice of pouring out all that the heart contains, even if what the heart contains is despair over its own unwillingness.
For Nachman, this speech has another effect: as the human heart pours forth, so will God's. God's stubborn heart, or seemingly stubborn heart, or expectantly waiting heart, will crack open too, and pour forth rachamim, divine kindness that flows in all directions, running in the dry places like a river.
We talked on Rosh Hashanah about our being like wells ourselves. And about the debris of the world's difficulties, that has plugged up our connection to our source. And about our need to dredge the wells through our teshuvah, to re-dig them like Isaac did.
But Rebbe Nachman might, I suspect, add another step. If we want our wells to fill, we need to prime the pump, as my teacher Rabbi Elliot Ginsburg might say. We need to pour forth. To crack open our stony hearts with words and melody, with tears and laughter. We start that effort at filling our wells, and we will soon find the well filling itself, the water rising from the Source. Our wells filling with all that divine stuff, and all that good human stuff that is also divine stuff.
On these days of Sukkot, the Levites would draw water every morning from the Pool of Siloam. And they would carry it in procession into the Gates of Jerusalem. And in the evening they would have a celebration, called Simchat Beit Hashoevah, the rejoicing of the water-drawing, with dancing and music. This revelry was intended to invite the rain. They would draw water from the earth in order to draw water from heaven.
This is that holiday and this is one of those nights. So let us draw water and let it rain for us, so that our wells may fill to overflowing. After all, the day of rain is greater than the day of resurrection; greater than the day of the giving of Torah.
*1*BT Taanit 7a.
*2*Deuteronomy 32:2; New International Translation.
*3*The rest of this drash draws heavily from the teachings of Rebbe Nachman, Likutei Moharan 20:1.
Much gratitude to Rabbi Elliot Ginsburg who pours forth Torah like rain. Lots and lots of rain.