Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Is rain a negative omen on Succot?

Two years ago, at a Succos table, I was telling a friend of mine the parable of the kiton shel mayim, from the Mishna in Succah:
מתני' כל שבעת הימים אדם עושה סוכתו קבע וביתו עראי ירדו גשמים מאימתי מותר לפנות משתסרח המקפה משלו משל למה הדבר דומה לעבד שבא למזוג כוס לרבו ושפך לו קיתון על פניו:

Junior, who was carefully listening to every word of the conversation, was extremely upset with the mashal, before I got to the nimshal. He could not understand why the master would do such a thing to his servant, that the servant brought him a pitcher of water and he threw it in his face. So upset that I didn't try to give him the nimshal, that we, trying to sit in the Succah, are like the eved and Hashem is the Master.

What is the point of this allegory? There are two possibilities. One strong one is as a counter to those who would subject themselves to the pouring rain to sit in the Succah, regardless. Hashem doesn't want this, and it is then a bit impetuous. A second one is that we should consider rain on Succot, when we are trying to sit in the Succah, as a mark of Hashem's displeasure with us. Perhaps.

This year, on the first night of Succot, we had just finished kiddush, hamotzi and our challah, and had brought all the food of the main course into the succah when the sky opened up on us. Soon thereafter, we began eating the meal in the house, as the rain was not stopping. Junior was very upset. Why would Hashem do this to us, not letting us fulfill the mitzvah of eating in the Succah.

I wasn't about to use the mashal of the kiton shel mayim and besides, I didn't want to start him thinking of reasons Hashem would be displeased with us, for various reasons I won't go into, but the least of which is that he would take it extremely to heart and be incredibly sad, which is counter to the idea of simchat yom tov. But I told him the halachic explanation for leaving the succah. The mitzvah is teishvu ke'ein taduru, that you should treat the succah like your house and live in it as you live in your house. If it were raining cats and dogs into your house, and ruining your soup, wouldn't you leave and seek shelter elsewhere? This amused him, and made him happy.

So what are we to make of the rain on Succot. Besides the rain on the first night, there were other days it was raining heavily, such that we did not eat in the Succah. Is this is sign of Divine displeasure?

I am not so sure.

Consider the following pesukim from Shmuel Aleph, perek 12, just after the Bnei Yisrael asked for a king, to be like all the other nations:

טז  גַּם-עַתָּה הִתְיַצְּבוּ וּרְאוּ, אֶת-הַדָּבָר הַגָּדוֹל הַזֶּה, אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה, עֹשֶׂה לְעֵינֵיכֶם.16 Now therefore stand still and see this great thing, which the LORD will do before your eyes.
יז  הֲלוֹא קְצִיר-חִטִּים, הַיּוֹם--אֶקְרָא אֶל-יְהוָה, וְיִתֵּן קֹלוֹת וּמָטָר; וּדְעוּ וּרְאוּ, כִּי-רָעַתְכֶם רַבָּה אֲשֶׁר עֲשִׂיתֶם בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָה, לִשְׁאוֹל לָכֶם, מֶלֶךְ.  {ס}17 Is it not wheat harvest to-day? I will call unto the LORD, that He may send thunder and rain; and ye shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which ye have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking you a king.' {S}
יח  וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמוּאֵל אֶל-יְהוָה, וַיִּתֵּן יְהוָה קֹלֹת וּמָטָר בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא; וַיִּירָא כָל-הָעָם מְאֹד אֶת-יְהוָה, וְאֶת-שְׁמוּאֵל.18 So Samuel called unto the LORD; and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day; and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel.
יט  וַיֹּאמְרוּ כָל-הָעָם אֶל-שְׁמוּאֵל, הִתְפַּלֵּל בְּעַד-עֲבָדֶיךָ אֶל-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ--וְאַל-נָמוּת:  כִּי-יָסַפְנוּ עַל-כָּל-חַטֹּאתֵינוּ רָעָה, לִשְׁאֹל לָנוּ מֶלֶךְ.19 And all the people said unto Samuel: 'Pray for thy servants unto the LORD thy God, that we die not; for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king.'

The reason it was clear that this was a sign from heaven, rather than a natural occurrence, was that besides being right after Shmuel's prediction, it was the day of the wheat harvest. I read this as rain not being expected during this time.

Consider if Shmuel had stood in Seattle and predicted rain. Here are some Seattle weather jokes:
What do you call two straight days of rain in Seattle?
A weekend. 

It only rains twice a year in Seattle:
August through April and May through July. 

What does daylight-saving time mean in Seattle?
An extra hour of rain. 

What's the definition of a Seattle optimist?
A guy with a sun visor on his rain hat. 

What did the Seattle native say to the Pillsbury Doughboy?
"Nice tan."
Succot, in the time of the Mishna, was right before the rainy season. It was possible for rain to come then, but not as likely. But then, the Hebrew calendar was fixed, and there is seasonal drift of this lunar calendar compared with the solar calendar. To cite Wikipedia on this:
The seriousness of the spring equinox drift is widely discounted on the grounds that Passover will remain in the spring season for many millennia, and the text of the Torah is generally not interpreted as having specified tight calendrical limits. On the other hand, the mean southward equinoctial year length is considerably shorter, so the Hebrew calendar has been drifting faster with respect to the autumn equinox, and at least part of the harvest festival of Sukkot is already more than a month after the equinox in years 1, 9, and 12 of each 19-year cycle; beginning in Hebrew year 5818 (2057 CE), this will also be the case in year 4. (These are the same year numbers as were mentioned for the spring season in the previous paragraph, except that they get incremented at Rosh Hashanah.) This progressively increases the probability that Sukkot will be cold and wet, making it uncomfortable or impractical to dwell in the traditional succah during Sukkot. The first winter seasonal prayer for rain is not recited until Shemini Atzeret, after the end of Sukkot, yet it is becoming increasingly likely that the rainy season in Israel will start before the end of Sukkot.
Once mashiach comes and we reestablish the calendar according to moon sighting, bet din could simply not make one leap year NOT a leap year, and we would be more or less back on track. But as it stands, as the years progress, it becomes more and more likely that it rains on succot. Nishtaneh hateva. This is derech hateva, and not necessarily a sign of Divine displeasure.


Anonymous said...

I think this Gemara only applies to the Land of Israel. In Israel this year, it rained just for about 5 minutes on the night of Shabbos. The rain dries up very quickly here.

I think the sign is good. Last year, it rained during one of the days during Sukkos.

There is a Gemara that indicates that Moshiach will not come in a year where it rains on Sukkos. I think this only applies to EY.

May Moshiach comes this year.

Akiva said...

The actual rainy period in Israel has been coming later and later over the last 30 years on the solar calendar, such that extended rains are usually not starting until December.

So while the calendar drift may have increased the possibility of rains in their normal time...the normal time has drifted later.

Anonymous said...

I found it quite amazing to not only experience rain during a normally arid time and following a horrific heat wave in So. CA but we saw a double rainbow last night!!! What do you make of that? I'd say a blessing from Adonai and His promise, doubled for a prosperous year. Amen.


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