In our Torah portion this week, Moses concludes his final address to the children of Israel. He does so in poetry, as if that is the only way possible to convey the depth of meaning and significance of these last few words. He calls upon heaven and earth to witness his speech and then, in some of the most beautiful imagery in the Torah he asks:
“May my teaching drop as the rain,
My words flow as the dew,
Like showers on young growth
Like droplets on the grass.”
I read this and I can just imagine Moses’ words falling gently from the sky, settling softly on the shoulders of the people, touching them with the life-giving sweetness of the wisdom of Torah. Rain and dew, two different forms of water, each one having its own lessons to teach us, each having its own way of bringing us into the embrace of tradition.
The commentators ask what words that fall like rain and flow like dew have to teach us. Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Poland says that rain falls on the earth and its effect is not felt immediately. It takes time for the flowers, grasses and trees to grow. And it is the same with words of Torah. Sometimes we cannot immediately see how they can be helpful or relevant, but in time their wisdom is revealed. Rashi teaches that rain, although essential for life, is not welcomed by everyone. Farmers, and those who rely upon the rain for sustenance, rejoice in it; but those who are traveling, or a wine-maker who has an open vat, will not be so happy. In the same way, sometimes the words of Torah will be difficult to hear, they may present a challenge, they may confront us and at other times they may be life giving, providing us with inspiration, hope, joy and love.
But, says Sifrei, dew is always beloved, it is soft, gentle, constant, it is always there, dependable and reliable, so much so, that sometimes we do not notice it at all. We take it for granted and don’t take the time to pause and really see and appreciate it. In the same way, Torah is always there, teachings for us to hear, learn and be moved by. But because of its constancy, it is easy for us to take it for granted, to forget to stop and notice and we lose an incredible opportunity to grow and be touched by something greater than ourselves.
As we move into the festival of Sukkot we focus on the weather, especially on the rains. Simchat Torah is the celebration of the completion and beginning again of the Torah reading cycle, so we find again the link between rain and Torah. Sometimes the words of Torah will be like the life giving rains — they will sustain, inspire and guide us. Sometimes they will be challenging, causing us discomfort and struggle, they will be more as the unwelcome rains. But Torah is always there for us, a text with which to grapple, learn and to help us grow. But. like the dew, we must not take it for granted. We have an incredible opportunity to learn from the wisdom of our ancestors and to draw from their teachings. An opportunity for the Torah to inspire us. But in order for that to happen, we need to engage with the text and its teachings — to find meaning, and to grapple with different understandings and interpretations. Tradition teaches that every passage of the Torah has 70 facets; 70 different meanings for us to uncover.
This new year, as we begin the cycle again, we sit in our sukkah and contemplate the fragility of life and existence. May the words of Torah fall gently upon us like the rains and the dew. May we find guidance and wisdom within it and may we find many opportunities to study its words together.