At the end of Sukkot, Jews begin to include prayers for rain in our daily liturgy. In biblical times, this was when the winter grains were planted, barley and wheat, to be harvested at Pesach and Shavuot respectively. The prayers are to nurture the crops over the coming months.
The sages teach that on Sukkot the world is judged for the next rain cycle. Hoshanot are pleading liturgical poems we recite during Sukkot to call forth the rains for the coming year. Jewish communities all over the world recite these prayers and perform hakafot (circles), waving willow branches toward the earth to invoke the waters.
During Temple times there was a ceremony of Simchat Beit Hashoeva, (Rejoicing at the Place of the Water-Drawing), where the most pious members of the community danced and sang songs of praise to God while many more watched. It included juggling, music, and fire spinning. If you’re interested in seeing contemporary adaptations of this ceremony, you can join Wilderness Torah this Sunday for a virtual Sukkot In-Gathering.
According to the Mishnah, (Oral Torah, Tractate Sukkah),
“One who has not seen the rejoicing at the Place of the Water-Drawing has never seen rejoicing in their life.”
This joy and celebration that comes with Sukkot as a harvest celebration is after the crops have been harvested and stored away. There is not time during the height of the season, when the kitchen counter is overflowing, to celebrate for a week. This joy extends to Simhat Torah, when we dance with the Torah scrolls. We celebrate food, learning and G!d.
My favorite teaching about praying for rain asks, “Why wait until the end of the holiday to begin these prayers for rain?” It involves the recognition that many people had traveled to Jerusalem for the holiday. Rain too early would make the roads unpassable for the journey home. Timing is everything!
It has been such a joy and inspiration to tour some gardens with the JVGB this week. We still have space on Sunday at 4:30pm in Framingham or Monday at 10:30am at Groundwork Somerville South St Farm. If you are interested in joining us, please email me.
I bless us all that during this time of seasonal transition we recognize the larger forces at play, and are granted appropriate rainfall in the proper time.
In gratitude and gardens,
Co-Founder and Director
Beantown Jewish Gardens