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Two Types of Rain

By Jack E. Saunders

Concerning rain: "natural rain" and rain which comes only in response to humankind's merit and prayer.

Recently, in fact as I begin writing, on November 13th, 2007, the governor of Georgia has called for a day of prayer for rain in light of the drought occuring in most of the Southeastern states. This call for a day of prayer has provoked the ire of some groups who oppose such a day, to the point they have insisted that they would rather go without water. In other words, they would rather that the drought continue, even though it has decimated crops and water supplies for many of the large cities in the south, than pray to the Creator for rain.

Why has the governor's proposed day of prayer provoked the ire of these groups? Why are these groups so opposed to a day of prayer?

First, let us begin by understanding the underlying idea - the idea behind the governor calling for a day of prayer for rain. This will help us understand why his proposal is so provocative.

The governor, by calling for a day of prayer for rain, is saying that rainfall just might not be by chance or a result of mere "natural" causes but, indeed, is given to humanity as a Divine favor by the Creator. In other words rainfall is not in the realm of human governance but of Divine fiat. The governor is saying that rain comes, at least in certain circumstances, only when men and women pray to their Creator for it.

Now, having identified the thinking behind the governors’ call for a day of prayer for rain, let us explore this concept, of rainfall coming only as a response to men’s prayers. Is there any support for this in the Bible?

Believe it or not, this idea is set forth very early in the [1]Tenach, the Bible (that is, the so-called Old Testament). In fact, reference is found to divine rain in [2] Genesis (Bereishis, in Hebrew, or ivrit) 2:5, where we are told that “G'd  had not yet sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to work the soil.” In other words G'd had not yet sent rain upon the [3]  eretz (land), for there was no humankind there to recognize the utility of rain, i.e., there was no one there to recognize its importance. One of the Sages of Israel, Rashi, states that, [4]“When man was created he recognized the importance of rain for the world. He prayed, and rain fell causing the trees and the vegetation to spring forth.”   

Another of the Sages, Maharal, states, [5]“It is prohibited to perform a kindness on behalf of someone who will not recognize the favor.”

Another great Sage, Malbim, says, [6]“That rain, matar, is a symbol of Divine providence, and it descends in response to man’s prayers.” He also notes that there is a “natural” rain, geshem, which descends as a result of the vapor ascending to the clouds from the earth. Malbim describes this type of rain as not propitious. Then he also describes the other type of rain as a gift of Divine Providence and further states that this type of rain descends from the Upper Waters only in response to man’s merits and prayers. This type of rain he states, [7]“This rain is called matar, and carries with it Divine propitiousness.”  The great Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, author of Nineteen Letters, Horeb, and Commentary on the Torah, also writes, [8]“Rain was lacking, for G'd would not grant it to the physical world, but only to humankind.”

Now, do we find any case where these Divine rains are mentioned in the actual text of the Tenach? Yes, we do. In I Kings 17-18 we find the story of King Ahab and the Prophet Elijah. The Prophet Elijah appears to King Ahab and informs him that there will be no rain, matar, propitious or Divine rain in the land until G'd decides to send it.

Thus, we find that there are indeed two types of rain. Rain that is not propitious, i.e., rain that falls under the right circumstances, or "natural" circumstances, and Divine rain, propitious or providentially given rains, which come only in relation to man’s merits and prayer.

Lastly, now we understand the protest by some groups for a day of prayer for rain. These are godless people - that is, people who reject even the idea of a Being Who can intervene in history, within the laws of nature, when He chooses to - who believe that rain comes only as a result of purely natural circumstances, which have nothing to do with a Supreme Being. There is no need, at least in their minds, to petition the Creator for rain, since 1) they do not recognize that the Creator exists and 2) as far as they are concerned, Whoever or Whatever He may be, cannot respond to His creatures' prayers for rain.

Should we pray for rain or just wait for natural causes to produce it? What about when a severe drought - as we are currently experiencing - has no end in sight? What is man to do, since he cannot control the circumstances which cause the natural rains, but to turn his face toward the heavens and recognize that 1) there is a Creator and 2) that the Creator sometimes grants His rains only because His creatures merit and pray for it?

May Hashem - El, Elokim, the Compassionate One, the Eternal - grant us His propitious (that is, His divinely, providentially given) rains.

See Jack E. Saunders' MySpace site, .

[1] Acronym for the Bible, or so-called Old Testament: T for Torah (Guidance, Way, or Law), N for Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ch for Chetuvim (Writings): Tenach.

[2] Genesis 2:5

[3] earth

[4] The ArtScroll Tenach Series, Bereishis (i.e., Genesis) 2:5

[5] The ArtScroll Tenach Series, Bereishis 2:5

[6] The ArtScroll Tenach Series, Bereishis 2:5

[7] The ArtScroll Tenach Series, Bereishis 2:5

[8] The ArtScroll Tenach Series, Bereishis 2:5

[9] Acronym for the Jewish Bible, see # 1 above: Tenach


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