Peninei Halakha

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Mentioning Rain and Praying for It

04 – Mentioning and Asking for Rain

In the winter season, we mention rain twice in the Amidah. In the beginning, we mention rain in our praise of Hashem Who causes rain to fall; afterwards, we ask Hashem to bless us with dew and rain.

In the second berachah of the Amidah, Mechayei HaMeitim, we praise the One “Who makes the wind blow and the rain fall,” (“Mashiv haru’ach u’morid hagashem”). Chazal instituted mentioning the praise of rain in this particular berachah because rain gives life to the world.

In the ninth berachah, Birkat HaShanim, we request rain. According to the Sephardic minhag, the entire wording of Birkat HaShanim changes from winter to summer: in the winter we start with “Barech Aleinu” and in the summer we start with “Barcheinu Hashem Elokeinu.” According to the Ashkenazic minhag, the wording of Birkat HaShanim in the summer and in the winter is identical, with the exception of the words “v’ten tal u’matar” in the winter, and “v’ten berachah” in the summer.

Although both the mention of rain and the request for it are recited in the winter, there is a difference between them. The mention of rain is recited at the appropriate season for rain, whereas the prayer for rain is only recited when we actually want rain to start falling.

The mention of rain begins on the holiday of Shemini Atzeret. Conceivably, rain could be mentioned from the beginning of Sukkot, since from then on, the period of rain begins. However, because rain is considered to be a sign of a curse on the holiday of Sukkot, for we cannot fulfill the mitzvah of sitting in the sukkah when it is raining, we therefore do not mention it then. Chazal chose the Musaf prayer of Shemini Atzeret as the point at which we begin to mention rain, for then the whole community comes to synagogue and the announcement of its recital can be made in the presence of everyone. Ma’ariv was not chosen because not everyone comes to synagogue for the Ma’ariv prayer. Likewise, it cannot be announced before reciting the Amidah of Shacharit because we are prohibited from interrupting between redemption and prayer (Beit Yosef and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 114:1-2).

However, the beginning of the request for rain was delayed fifteen days to the seventh night of the month of MarCheshvan. This is so that the last of the people returning home to the area of the Euphrates River from a Sukkot pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem, would arrive without encountering rain on their way (Shulchan Aruch 117:1). Even after the destruction of Jerusalem, this custom was not abolished, since any minhag that reminds us of the great days of the Temple is cherished. Only after the Temple is rebuilt will the Sanhedrin be able to determine whether or not to change the time that we start asking for rain, taking into consideration contemporary means of transportation.

We continue to mention rain until the first day of Pesach; in Shacharit we still mention rain, but in Musaf we start mentioning dew. Regarding the request for rain, since the request is only made on weekdays, it turns out that the last time we ask for rain is in Minchah of Erev Pesach.

05 -The Law Regarding Errors in the Mention and Request for Rain

One who unintentionally mentions rain in the summer must go back and correct his mistake, since there is no praise in mentioning rain at that time. If he did not yet finish the berachah, he goes back to the beginning of it and says “Morid hatal,” as should be recited in the summer. If he already finished the berachah, he must start the Amidah again from the beginning in order to recite it properly, since the first three berachot are considered one unit (Shulchan Aruch 114:4).

One who mistakenly did not mention rain in the winter but instead mentioned dew, like we say in the summer, “Morid hatal,” need not repeat it since he recited some sort of praise relating to water. However, if he did not mention dew either, he must go back and repeat the entire Amidah, since he omitted such important words of praise (Shulchan Aruch 114:5).

One who incorrectly requests rain in the summer: since he made an inappropriate request in Birkat HaShanim, he must go back and correct it. Therefore, if he did not finish his Amidah yet, he returns to Birkat HaShanim, recites it properly, and continues in order from there until the end of the Amidah. If he already finished the Amidah, he recites the Amidah again properly from the beginning (Shulchan Aruch 117:3).

If, by mistake, one did not request rain in the winter, it depends how much of the Amidah he already recited. If he did not yet reach Birkat Shome’a Tefillah, he continues his prayer and when he arrives at Birkat Shome’a Tefillah, in which one is permitted to make any request, he asks for rain, thereby correcting his mistake. However, if he already passed Birkat Shome’a Tefillah, he missed the place in which he is able to correct himself and lost all the berachot that he recited after Birkat HaShanim. He must return to Birkat HaShanim, recite it in accordance with the halachah, and from then on continue to pray in the proper order. If he already finished the Amidah and was prepared to take three steps back, his prayer is considered insufficient since he did not request rain, and it must be repeated in the proper manner (Shulchan Aruch 117:4-5).

06 – Advice Against Mistakes

The most frequent mistake made in the Amidah concerns the mention of, and the request for rain, because the wording is switched bi-annually. Throughout half the year, we become accustomed to a certain wording and tend to continue even though the time has come to change. As we learned, in three out of four possible errors regarding the request and mention of rain, we are obligated to repeat the prayer (see note 4).

If a person is uncertain as to whether or not he recited the correct words, as long as thirty days have not passed since the change in wording, in the beginning of the summer or winter, we assume that he most likely erred, since he is still in the habit of using the earlier wording. If his mistake is one of the three that necessitate a repetition, he must go back and pray correctly. However, if thirty days already passed, when people become accustomed to the change in wording; we can assume that he most likely recited the correct wording, and he does not need to repeat the Amidah.

In order to be spared this uncertainty, following which it is necessary to go back and repeat the prayer, it is best that every person accustom himself to the new wording on the day of the change by repeating it ninety times, so that his tongue will get into the habit of reciting the new wording and he will not err. In that way, even if the person is in doubt whether or not he recited the proper wording, the assumption is that he must have recited it correctly, since he already trained his tongue ninety times to say it in accordance with the halachah. Hence, it is unnecessary to repeat his prayer. (Shulchan Aruch 114:8-9).

Therefore, when the seventh night of Cheshvan arrives, according to the Sephardic minhag, which maintains that the nusach of the entire paragraph requesting rain changes, one should accustom himself to opening the berachah properly by reciting “Rofei cholei Amo Yisrael, Barech aleinu” ninety times. According to the minhag of the Ashkenazim, he says, “v’et kol minei tevuatah l’tovah, v’ten tal u’matar livrachah.” Some six months later, when he arrives at the Musaf service of the first day of Pesach, he says, “Mechayei meitim Attah rav lehoshia, Morid hatal” ninety times. On motza’ei chag before Ma’ariv of Chol HaMo’ed, according to the Sephardic minhag he says, “Rofei cholei Amo Yisrael, Barcheinu” and according to the Ashkenazic minhag, “v’et kol mini tevuatah l’tovah, v’ten berachah” (Mishnah Berurah 114:40; Kaf HaChaim 60).[4]

[4]. However, if he makes a mistake concerning the mention of rain in the period of transition from summer to winter, he does not need to repeat the Amidah, for as we learned, even if he did not say “Mashiv haru’ach u’morid hagashem,” but he mentioned dew, he fulfilled his obligation. Therefore, because “Morid hatal” (concerning dew) is recited in the summer, then even if he recited the summer wording, he fulfilled his obligation. (Although the Rama 114:3 writes that “Morid hatal” is not said in the summer, in Israel the Ashkenazic minhag is to say it.) However, in the transition period from winter to summer, if he erred, he invalidated his prayer, because that would mean he said “Morid hagashem” (regarding rain) in the summer. Any mistake a person makes concerning the request for rain renders his prayer invalid. To summarize, in three out of the four possibilities of error, it is necessary to repeat one’s prayer.
The source for the law that a person must repeat the Amidah in the first thirty days is in the Yerushalmi Ta’anit, chapter 1, halachah 1. Maharam of Rotenberg advises to routinize one’s tongue by saying the words ninety times. Although Rabbeinu Peretz disagrees with him, the Rosh concurs, and that is also what Shulchan Aruch rules as well. However, this is slightly problematic, for in thirty days, the second berachah of the Shemoneh Esrei is recited approximately 100 times, because of the Musaf prayers on Shabbat, holidays, and Chol HaMo’ed, whereas Birkat HaShanim is said less than eighty times, since it is not recited on Shabbat or in Musaf. Indeed, some poskim maintain that the main point is to accustom oneself with ninety Amidahs, as the Eliyah Rabbah and Derech HaChaim write. In the opinion of the Taz, Gra, and other Acharonim, the essence is to recite the prayers of those thirty days, even if he did not accustom himself to the wording ninety times. See Mishnah Berurah 114:37. In small paragraph 41 he writes in the name of the Chatam Sofer that l’chatchilah one should, indeed, accustom himself to the wording by reciting it 101 times. However, in practice, he concludes that if he only accustomed himself by reciting it ninety times, it is not in our power to rule that he should repeat the Amidah against the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch. It seems that the reasoning behind the Maharam’s words is that there is no significant difference between 80, 90, or 100 times, yet the more one repeats it, the more he will familiarize his tongue. Since the Yerushalmi established that after thirty days one most probably does not err, he established that one’s tongue can be trained by saying it ninety times, which is the average number of times the Amidah is recited in a month.

07 – The Law Outside of Israel

The Chachamim postponed the commencement of the request for rain in Babylonia (Bavel) until the sixtieth day of the winter season (which comes out to be the 4th or 5th of December). This is because there is an abundance of water from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, and therefore it is unnecessary to request rain in that area at the very beginning of winter. All people living outside of Israel follow the custom of Babylonia, and start asking for rain starting from the sixtieth day of the season (Shulchan Aruch 117:1).[5]

Regarding a person residing in Israel who leaves the country for a few months, there is disagreement. Some say that he should request rain as they do in Israel, for that is his home (Pri Chadash). Others say that he should request rain according to the custom of the place where he is (Birkei Yosef). In any situation of uncertainty, one should request rain in the berachah of Shome’a Tefillah and not in Birkat HaShanim, thereby fulfilling his obligation according to all opinions. See the note for details of the halachah.[6]

In places that require rain in the spring, the request for rain in Birkat HaShanim should not be continued after Pesach. Instead, the law concerning those places resembles the law of individuals; the people in those areas pray for rain in Birkat Shome’a Tefillah in which every person may add his own personal requests (Shulchan Aruch 117:2).[7]

People living in countries south of the equator, such as Argentina, Brazil, and Australia, also request rain when it is winter in Israel. Despite the fact that it is summer in those countries at that time, since Israel is the center of the Jewish world, Jews everywhere follow its custom and make the request for rain according to winter in Israel.

However, in places where the rain causes damage in the summer, the people do not practice the minhag of Israel, so as not to request something that is harmful for them. Instead, all year round they recite the wording of the summer in Birkat HaShanim, and request rain in Shome’a Tefillah. During their winter they should have in mind the place in which they live, and during Israel’s winter they should think of Israel.[8]

One traveling from Israel, or the northern countries to visit those areas should continue requesting rain according to the winter of Israel, even if the rain causes damage there (She’arim Metzuyanim BaHalachah 19:3).

[5]. In the countries closest to Israel, in which the climates are dry and more water is needed, it is customary to begin to request rain at the same time people in Israel do, on the eve of the seventh of Cheshvan. That is the custom even in far-away countries where the climate is similar to that of Israel, such as Djerba (Yalkut Yosef 117:4).

[6]. The dispute of the Acharonim is explained in the Mishnah Berurah 117:5. Kaf HaChaim 11 tends to agree with the opinion of the Birkei Yosef who maintains that one requests rain as they do in the place where he is at that time. Many mention the advice that one should make his request in Shome’a Tefillah (Tefillah KeHilchatah p. 235; Yalkut Yosef 117:15; Ishei Yisrael 23:37). In that way, he fulfills his obligation according to all, since even when there is an obligation to ask for rain, the request can be made up in Shome’a Tefillah if missed, and on the other hand, even if it is not the proper time to make such a request, if he asked for rain in Shome’a Tefillah, he need not repeat his prayer.Details of certain laws: An Israeli who leaves the country: 1) If he leaves before the seventh of Cheshvan, he asks for rain in Shome’a Tefillah starting from the seventh of Cheshvan. 2) If he leaves after the seventh of Cheshvan, since he already began requesting rain, he continues to do so in Birkat HaShanim (Kaf HaChaim 13, in the name of Kesher Shel Gudal). 3) If he leaves with his family for more than a year, he is considered at that time to be a resident of a different country and he follows the custom there.

A person from a different country who comes to Israel: it is better that he practices like those in Israel, and therefore if he intends to return to his country after the day on which it is necessary to start requesting rain there, he requests rain as those in Israel do. If he intends to return before the day that it is necessary to start requesting rain there, some say he makes his request in Shome’a Tefillah. Others say that he requests as they do in Israel. When he returns to his country, he does not need to continue the request for rain, but it is good to do so in Shome’a Tefillah (Yalkut Yosef 117:17).

In all these laws, it seems that if one erred and practiced according to one of the outlined opinions (and did not make his request in Shome’a Tefillah), he need not repeat his prayer. Concerning a chazan, even if he requests rain in Shome’a Tefillah in his silent Amidah, he prays the repetition according to the custom of the place in which he resides, because it is a prayer on behalf of the congregation (Ishei Yisrael 23:39).

[7]. If he mistakenly requested rain in Birkat HaShanim in a place that needs rain after Pesach, according to the Shulchan Aruch 117:2 he must repeat his prayer with a stipulation that if the halachah follows the Rosh’s reasoning, then it would be permitted for the residents of that place to ask for rain in Birkat HaShanim and, indeed, this prayer is a voluntary prayer (tefillat nedavah). According to the Rama, b’dieved he is not obligated to repeat the Amidah. If he realized in the middle of his prayer that he requested rain in Birkat HaShanim at the wrong time, the Yabia Omer, part 2, Orach Chaim 9:17, based on the Shulchan Aruch, writes that he must immediately go back and correct his mistake. However, according to the Mishnah Berurah 10, since b’dieved he fulfills his obligation even after saying it, he concludes his prayer and if he wishes to repeat his prayer, he prays another Amidah as a voluntary prayer. The Kaf HaChaim 25 writes that he finishes his prayer and afterwards recites another voluntary Amidah.

[8]. The distinction between normal circumstances in which we follow the custom of Israel, and a situation in which the rain causes damage, is clarified in Torat Chaim 3:7; Kaf HaChaim 117:17, and Ishei Yisrael 23:42. Or L’Tzion, part 2, 30 writes that even when the rain causes damage to a certain place, it is good that the people there request rain for Israel during their summer.

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