This year, as many of us were putting the finishing touches on our sukkah, we experienced more wind and rain than we would ever want.
The tornadoes and storms that ripped through our city on Friday, September 21 caused incredible damage to homes and businesses in our community. It took days for power to be restored, and some families lost their homes. Incredibly, no one was killed and only a few suffered injuries.
At Temple Israel, as I was preparing to lead our Friday evening Kabbalat Shabbat service, we lost power. The sanctuary, however, was lit with emergency lights and as our service began we added some candles and welcomed Shabbat. As the service progressed, the skies cleared, and someone noticed that there was a rainbow in the sky. We all went outside and together said the blessing for the rainbow: Baruch ata Ado-nai Elo-heinu melech ha’olam zocher ha’brit v’ne’eman bevrito v’kayam b’ma’amoro (Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who remembers the covenant, and is faithful to the covenant, and keeps God’s promise).
Incredible how we were reminded that despite the awesome destructive power of the storm, just an hour later we were able to be reassured that the beauty of God’s creation would shine though.
It was one of the most meaningful Kabbalat Shabbat Services we have had! As the sun set, and the sanctuary became dark, save for the light of the candles, we powerfully felt the transition into Shabbat.
We Jews have a prayer for everything and everything has a prayer. Like many other faiths, we ask God for a variety of things – health, prosperity, freedom, and yes, rain. Since our liturgical calendar follows the cycle of the seasons in the Land of Israel, our prayers for rain do the same.
There is a long standing rabbinic practice that prevents us from praying for that which is not possible or logical. Thus, praying for rain in the midst of a desert climate in the summer months was deemed as praying for something that was simply out of the realm of possibility. In its place, we pray for dew.
Since Pesach we have been inserting a prayer into the Amidah (the central prayer of Jewish liturgy) that asks God to send down the dew each day. Each year our liturgy changes at Shemini Atzeret, and our prayer for dew changes to a prayer for wind and rain.
In the hours after the storm, it became clear that our city had suffered a very significant storm. Many homes were damaged, roofs torn off, windows blown in, businesses were closed, and much of the city was left without power.
As Shabbat faded into Sunday, we learned that for many people it would be several days before power was restored. Many Jewish organizations who had power, like the Soloway Jewish Community Centre, opened their doors to welcome people, giving them a warm place to rest, charge their phones and have a warm shower. It was beautiful to see so many people extend offers of kindness, support and help to their friends and strangers alike.
Sukkot, a time when we leave our comfortable homes and experience life in the temporary dwelling of a sukkah, makes us so aware of the blessings we have. This year especially, we are powerfully reminded of the fragility of our lives and how quickly they can be turned upside down.
Wishing you all a very happy and healthy 5779. May the winds blow and the rains come in their seasons. May we always be willing to extend help and love to those around us who need it.