When I am in Israel, as I was this past week, it doesn’t take much to make me mindful of where I am. But I had a new experience of mindfulness last week at each weekday service I attended. It came in the blessing for sustenance in the daily Amidah, which has a seasonal variation. On Shemini Atzeret, we began to mention God’s capacity to make it rain, but we don’t actually start petitioning God to provide it until later. When we do, the custom is to say “Vetein berakhah–grant blessing” during the summer and “Vetein tal umatar livrakhah–grant dew and rain for blessing” in the winter.
So when does summer end and winter begin? In New York, and everywhere outside of Israel, that transition date comes this week–either December 4 or 5 (this year, because the Hebrew year 5772 is divisible by 4, it’s Monday night the 5th). But in Israel, the switch takes place on the 7th of Heshvan, which was a month ago. The first time I davened in Israel last week and heard the repetition of the Amidah with that unexpected change, I remembered where I was. Israel had already begun to pray for rain.
As Rabbi Reuven Hammer explains in Or Hadash: A Commentary on Siddur Sim Shalom, we only mention rain in our prayers during Israel’s rainy season, because “no matter where Jews live, our consciousness is turned to the Land of Israel, whose climate and calendar govern our lives.”
But if that’s true, why do we in the Diaspora begin asking for rain so much later than they do in Israel? Why don’t we start asking on the 7th of Heshvan just like in Israel?
In other words, here’s my question: in what ways should Jews in the Diaspora be mindful of Israel’s needs, and when should our concerns focus more on ourselves?
To be continued on Shabbat morning in shul…
Rabbi David Wise