In sermons, splansky

By Rabbi Yael Splansky.

According to the Talmud, our prayer for rain is delayed until Shemini Atzeret for very practical reasons – because the roads to Jerusalem needed to be clear and accessible for the pilgrims to get there and back without their wheels getting stuck in the mud or flash floods washing out the roads altogether.  Despite what UNESCO may wish to claim, we know our history.  Only now do we weave into our prayers the request that rain will fall onto Israel’s soil – in time and in proportion.

One of the Israeli companies that presented technological innovations at the United Nations General Assembly last week is Water-Gen, which has built a device that harvests condensation from the humidity in the air and turns it into clean drinking water.  Remarkable!  By conservative estimates, one out of every ten people in the world lacks access to safe drinking water. One out of every five deaths of children under the age of 5 is the result of a water-related disease.  And by 2025 two-thirds of the world will face water shortages.   The single largest source of fresh water is contained within the atmosphere, within the air we breathe.  Israeli scientists have developed a way to affordably (ten cents a gallon) pull water out of thin air.  They, in the image of God, put our prayers for rain into action.

Livracha v’lo liklala.  For blessing and not for curse.  Amen.

L’Chayim v’lo l’mavet.  For life and not for death.  Amen.

L’sova v’lo v’razon.  For plenty and not for scarcity.  Amen.

Elazar Kalir’s Prayer-Song for Rain

The greatest and most prolific of liturgical poets was Elazar Kalir. He wrote for every holy day of the year, drawing from Biblical and Midrashic literature.  Living in Tiberias, sometime before the 10th century, he coined many new Hebrew words and expression.  His poems spread like wildfire from Israel, throughout Arabia and all of Europe. He was a rock-star, shrouded in mystery.  As Kallir’s fame grew, so did the legends. One claims that he was killed by his own teacher, Yannai, who was jealous of his talent.

A few stanzas from Elazar Kallir’s famous prayer-poem for rain:  (Hear how he tracks the waterways of biography.  How water weaves like a river throughout a life time.)

Our God and God of our ancestors:
Remember Jacob, who crossed the Jordan’s water.
He bravely rolled the stone off the mouth of the well of water.
He wrestled with an angel made of fire and water,
And therefore You promised to be with him through fire and water.
For Jacob’s sake do not hold back the gift of water!

Remember Moses, who was drawn in
a reed basket out of the Nile’s water.
Who helped Jethro’s daughters —
He drew water and gave the sheep water.
He struck the rock and out came water.
For Moses’ sake do not hold back water!

Remember the Twelve Tribes whom
You brought through the divided waters;
For whom You sweetened bitter water;
Their descendants’ blood was spilled like water.
Turn to us, God, who are surrounded by troubles like water.
For the Jewish people’s sake, do not withhold water!

You are Adonai, our God (Mashiv HaRuach uMorid haGashem)
You cause the wind to blow and the rain to fall.
For blessing and not for curse. Amen.
For life and not for death. Amen.
For plenty and not for lacking. Amen.

Bob Dylan’s Prayer-Song for Rain

In the Diaspora Museum at Tel Aviv University, there is an exhibit proudly dedicated to the 196 Jews and people of Jewish ancestry have been awarded the Nobel Prize.  That number accounts for 22% of all individual recipients worldwide and for 36% of all US recipients.

#197 now is Robert Zimmerman, also known as Shabtai Zisl ben Avraham.  The Nobel Prize Committee has said:  “The fact that Bob Dylan has declined this distinction does not in the least modify the validity of the award.”  Why did he decline?  It could be that Dylan is taking a page from the songbook of the post-WWII French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who refused the Nobel Prize in 1964 in order to protest the origin of the prize.  How could Sartre, who suffered torture as a prisoner of war, or Dylan, a life-long peace activist, accept a prize from the man who invented dynamite?

In 1888, Alfred Nobel, was reading his morning papers when, with a shock, he found himself reading his own obituary. It turned out that a journalist had made a simple mistake. It was Nobel’s brother who had died.  What horrified Nobel was what he read. It spoke about “the dynamite king” who had made a fortune from selling arms and explosives. Nobel suddenly realised that if he didn’t change his life that was all he would be remembered for. At that moment he decided to dedicate his fortune to creating five annual prizes for those who’d made outstanding contributions in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace. Nobel wanted to earn himself a “shem tov” and to be remembered for peace.

(Since the delivery of this sermon, Bob Dylan, has come forward to say he will in fact accept the prize.)  Of all his recorded songs and ballads, Bob Dylan’s finest Shmini Atzeret song is no doubt “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.”  Here’s is an excerpt:

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder that roared out a warnin’
I heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
I heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
I heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
I heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

And what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
And what’ll you do now my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are a many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
And the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell and speak it and think it and breathe it
And reflect from the mountain so all souls can see it
And I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singing
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

What do these two prayer-poems have in common?  Each written by a master of turn of phrase, they tell of our dependence on water – of how we are buoyed by it and how we are weighed down by it.  Water weaves through our days and years in unexpected ways.  Sometimes refreshing, sometimes threatening.  On Yizkor days, for some the tears come like a welcome rainfall.  For others, we feel ourselves adrift, pulled away from the shore by a wave of grief.  Some are thirsty for the memory of loved ones gone from this life.  On Yizkor days we allow ourselves the emotions we may supress the rest of the year – sadness, pain, even anger.  Today a hard rain falls and we can withstand it.  We aren’t afraid to it, because we take shelter in the company of one another – fellow Jews, fellow congregants who also know something of love and loss.  And we withstand the storm of emotion, because we take shelter in God’s protective embrace.  Today we pray:

Livracha v’lo liklala.  For blessing and not for curse.  Amen.

L’Chayim v’lo l’mavet.  For life and not for death.  Amen.

L’sova v’lo v’razon.  For plenty and not for lacking.  Amen.

May this be our blessing when the rain falls to quench the earth and to nourish our souls as we remember.


Starting Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Continuing every Tuesday at 6:30-7:15 p.m.

Immediately following our 6 pm evening service in the Youth Chapel, and over a little nosh, our very experienced grief counsellor, Helen Gia Levin MSW RSW, will provide a supportive environment for congregants to find new insight into the meaning of their losses.

Whether a loved one died recently or long ago, we hope you will take comfort in this opportunity to find meaning and motivation in memory.

You are welcome to “drop-in” from time to time or attend regularly.

No fee or registration is required.


“Understanding Your Bereavement & Healing” is made possible through the generosity of Elen Steinberg and family in loving memory of Anna Steinberg (nee Liverant)z’l

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