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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Risking a big 'Evil Eye' (tfu, tfu, tfu)

There's a saying among certain Native American tribes that the secret to a successful rain dance can be summed up in one word:  Timing.

Okay, that's totally made up and has nothing to do with Native Americans.  But the idea is intriguing, no?  Do a rain dance on a day when no rain shows up and you end up being demoted to cleaning up after the horses.  Do a rain dance on a day when it happens to rain and you're the tribe's new medicine man!

In Judaism we have our own version of a rain dance.  From the holiday of Sukkot in the fall until the holiday of Passover in the spring, observant Jews pray for rain three times a day.  And those who like to offer 'proofs' of the efficacy of prayer are quick to point out that, amazingly, the first rains of the season often arrive just as we start praying for it!

Now, an atheist or someone with a secular bent might argue that adding a plea for rain to our daily prayers at exactly the time of year when the traditional rainy season hits Israel is, shall we say, stacking the deck heavily in favor of the supplicant.  One could almost make a case for such prayers having a whiff of cynicism… kind of like praying for sunrise just before dawn.

But if we've learned anything from nearly a decade of drought, it is that the daily prayers for rain at this time of year are not meant as some sort of well-timed rain dance, or a Public Relations stunt to somehow 'prove' the existence of G-d.  Rather, they are meant to demonstrate in some tangible way that we do not take the annual rains for granted… and that we know all too well that they can be withheld at any time.

I've been thinking about this subject quite a bit lately as I find myself riding my scooter an hour each way in the pouring rain. 

On the one hand, I'm human and would be the worst kind of liar if I were to say that riding a scooter through an icy cold downpour is more fun than, say, riding on a warm sunny day.  

But on the other hand, having lived here through years of terrible drought, a part of me loves watching the rain soak into the parched landscape… knowing it will make its way to the depleted underground aquifers.  I can almost hear the ground sighing with satisfaction, like a man who has stumbled out of the desert and into a lush oasis.

There is a concept in both Judaism and baseball that one doesn't speak of good things in too loud a voice.   And one certainly doesn't mention a good thing while the good thing has not yet been fully realized. 

A no-hitter in the top of the 7th inning is as worthy of studied silence on the part of those observing it as a rainy December or January in Israel.  The 'game' is far from over, and speaking too soon of a good thing is considered a portent of the worst sort of luck.

But at the risk of a big 'Ayin Harah' (evil eye), I can't stop myself from wishing that I could find one of those cute animated web graphics that used to be ubiquitous during the drought years… you know, the ones that gave a real-time indication of the Kinneret's (Sea of Galilee) level with a little yellow duck floating on the surface of the level indicator. 

We all watched that little animated graphic day by day as the water level dropped… first past the 'Red Line' (below which pumping water is not recommended), and approaching the 'Black Line' (below which irreversible damage would be done to the lake).   It seems only fair that we should be able to watch it now as it is slowly replenished by the winter rains.

Tfu, Tfu, Tfu.


Posted by David Bogner on February 1, 2012 | Permalink


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For the Twitter users out there, there's an account that send out tweets with regular updates on the status of the Kinneret:

Posted by: Ilan | Feb 1, 2012 4:50:02 PM

Rain can be a tricky thing in a semi-desert climate. More is better than less,gradual is better than heavy.

Posted by: ED | Feb 1, 2012 5:30:14 PM

This is one of my favorite posts in a long time, starting with that catchy title. I like when my more superficially-cynical friends show their warm and fuzzy "I believe that G-d runs the world" insides. Let's here it for that cute little duck rising higher and higher, bs"d.

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Feb 1, 2012 6:21:09 PM

Or "hear" it. I've heard it both ways.

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Feb 1, 2012 6:21:43 PM

That is funny. My girlfriend and I also checked for the duck and were very disappointed not to find it. Last year we almost daily followed its slow movements on the water.

Posted by: Simon | Feb 1, 2012 7:55:19 PM

In English: http://www.savethekinneret.com/

The source of the data (in Hebrew):


and the duck: http://www.water.gov.il/hebrew/Pages/home.aspx

Posted by: HDS | Feb 1, 2012 10:06:11 PM

Nice post. Made me stop, think, and appreciate again. Thanks.

Posted by: EllisEllis | Feb 1, 2012 10:13:17 PM

Here's to you being up to your handlebars in rain!

Posted by: Quietusleo | Feb 2, 2012 6:22:21 AM

tfu tfu!

Posted by: Quietusleo | Feb 2, 2012 6:22:59 AM

As an olah chadasha, it's hard to fully appreciate the freezing cold downpours...
But I know we need the rain and am trying to be grateful.

Posted by: SaraK | Feb 2, 2012 12:38:52 PM

I still remember the first Shemini Atzeres I spent in Israel. It had not yet rained that season, and the morning was bright and sunny. Then the baal mussaf said Tefilas Geshem, the first prayer for rain of the year. Ten minutes later the sky was dark with clouds. A half hour later it was pouring buckets.

25 years later, that still sends shivers up my spine.

Posted by: psachya | Feb 3, 2012 4:24:01 AM

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