Internet guides us through Sukkot and Simchat Torah

We're at the end of Sukkot, which culminates with Shemini Atzeret, beginning tonight at sundown. Simchat Torah follows tomorrow at sundown. During Sukkot, as people dine and entertain under a canopy of branches, they check the skies for threatening clouds. It's ironic because on Shemini Atzeret, Jews traditionally recite a very special prayer, to be blessed with rain. Today, which is Hoshana Rabbah, we look at the special relationship between this holiday season, rain, water and the Jews.

As Amnon Bazak points out in "Sukkot and the Attributes of Justice," at sukkot/haretz.htm, rain is often seen in the Torah as a blessing and its absence, a curse. If the people of Israel turn away to serve other gods, "the anger of God will burn against you, and He will shut up the heavens and you will have no rain" (Deuteronomy 11:17). But if the nation listens to God's commandments, then "I shall give the rain of your land in its time; the early rain and the late rain" (Deut. 11:14).

Sukkot itself is tied very closely to water. One of the happiest ceremonies in Jewish tradition took place during this holiday. While the Temple was standing, a special water pouring ceremony called Simchat Bet HaShoavah was held on Sukkot. The drawing of the water was performed with such intense joy that the following saying remains a testament: "He who has not seen the rejoicing at the Simchat Bet HaShoavah, has never seen rejoicing in his life." You can find it at the Orthodox Union Web site at libations.htm.

And while we're thinking about drawing water with joy, now's the perfect time to listen to the most famous song on the topic, "Mayim, Mayim." It's at The song draws its lyrics from Isaiah 12:3: "With joy you will draw water / From the wells of salvation." Check out the reference at ref/Isaiah12.htm, a site maintained by Benyamin Pilant.

Chancellor Ismar Schorsch of the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary explains that after the fate of each individual has been determined between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, God now weighs the merits of the community as a whole. "Does its collective record of decency over the past year warrant the blessing of abundant rain?" You can find the passage at "And so Sukkot is more than a joyous thanksgiving festival at the end of an ample harvest. The mood of gratitude and celebration is accompanied by an undertone of anxiety. Will this year's rainfall be large enough to guarantee a repetition of last year's bounty? Over the eight-day holiday, what begins inaudibly swells into a crescendo of supplications for rain on the final two days of Hoshanah Raba and Shemini Atzeret."

Once Sukkot is formally over and we are no longer at risk of getting soaked during our outdoors dinner, Jews pray for a fall and winter blessed with plenty of rain in Israel. Check out chagim/shmini%2Dsimchat/ geshem.htm. "Tefilat Geshem" is a beautiful prayer that shows how crucial water has been to the heroes of the Torah. For example: "Remember the one (Moses) drawn forth in a bulrush basket from the water. They said, 'He drew water and provided the sheep with water.' At the time Your treasured people thirsted for water, he struck the rock and out came water. For the sake of his righteousness, grant abundant water!" The prayer ends with the entire congregation praying "For a blessing, not a curse. For life and not for death. For abundance, not for famine."

And from that day until Passover in the spring, Jews continue to pray for rain three times each weekday.

Have their prayers been heard? It may not always be easy to tell. But you can get a fairly good idea if you go to Israel's Channel Two news Web site and check out the latest weather conditions at

The wroter is a Toronto-based television producer who writes, lectures and teaches about the Jewish Internet. His columns alternate with those of James D. Besser. Mietkiewicz can be reached at [email protected]