As the Hebrews, formerly slaves in Egypt, are making their way to the land of Canaan, God tells them something intriguing about the place where they are going.
The land into which you are coming to take hold of it is not like the land of Egypt from which you went out, where you sow your seed and water it with your foot like a garden of greens. But the land into which you are crossing to take hold of it is a land of mountains and valleys. From the rain of the heavens you will drink water—a land that the LORD your God seeks out perpetually, the eyes of the LORD your God are upon it from the year’s beginning to the year’s end.Deut. 11:10-12. Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary.
What does it mean when God says that in Egypt, you water your seed “with your foot like a garden of greens?” In a note to verse 11, Robert Alter explains that Canaan is “a land of mountains and valleys. It is thus quite unlike the flat terrain of Egypt, and not amenable to the sort of irrigation system used in Egypt.”
The farmer in Canaan must rely directly on God’s providence, not the ingenuity of man. But God assures the people that he watches over the land where they are going; he keeps his eyes on it “from the year’s beginning to the year’s end.”
It is now the rainy season in Israel, what passes for winter here in Beersheba. In winter, we change a petition in the prayer for produce from asking God to bestow “blessing” [summer] to asking him to bestow “dew and rain for blessing” [winter]. Sometimes, it seems as if the two seasons in Beersheba are “very hot,” and “intolerably hot.” This past summer, while taking our dog Kulfi for a walk at three in the afternoon, probably the hottest time of the day, we stopped in the shade of a locust tree to cool off a bit. Kulfi’s panting inspired a poem, “Longing for Rain.”
I am pleased to say that Amethyst Review published the poem this past Friday. The Review is based in the UK and managed by editor in chief Sarah Law. In addition to being a publisher and editor, Sarah is a gifted poet. I was thrilled to find that she liked my poem. Law’s focus in Amethyst Review is “creative exploration of spirituality and the sacred.”
Here’s the poems beginning: I stand at the corner, resting / in the shade of a locust tree, /at the height of summer, longing / for rain. If you would like to read the rest of the poem, you can find it here.
The Second College Edition of the American Heritage Dictionary defines rain as “water condensed from atmospheric vapor, falling to earth in drops.” The word occurs sixteen times in the 1831 edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I exclude all references to storms, thunderstorms, or lightning. In none of her “rain” occurrences does Shelley refer to the technical meaning, or definition, of rain. In all of them, she used the word to set a mood.
For example, Viktor Frankenstein creates the monster in Chapter V. It moves at one in the morning while “the rain pattered dismally against the panes.” Disgusted with his creation, he abandons his apartment and wanders about Ingolstadt “although drenched by the rain which poured from a black and comfortless sky.” When Viktor returns to Geneva following the murder of his youngest brother, he arrives at night. “The heavens were clouded,” he says, “and I soon felt the rain coming slowly in large drops, but its violence quickly increased.” In these three examples, rain reflects an emotional state. It patters dismally, pours from a comfortless sky, and is violent.”
Rain’s emotional content is as varied as humans. For me, growing up in the stifling heat of Mississippi and living now in what seems the even greater heat of southern Israel, rain is a blessing, a cooler of the earth, a reflection of God’s providence.
One of my favorite Sabbath prohibitions is that we cannot use an umbrella in the rain. The reasoning is that we are not allowed to erect a protective covering, like a tent, for example, on the Sabbath. I think the real reason is that sometimes God wants us to experience nature directly, to feel the glorious miracle of condensed water vapor falling from the sky in our face.
In Chapter 38 of the book of Job, God replies to Job concerning his complaints. Although, I’m not sure that what God says is a reply. For in verse 28, God asks a question, not expecting any answer from Job. He says, “Hath the rain a father? or who hath begotten the drops of dew?”
God is the father of the rain; he, it is, who creates the dew.
All the best,