Praying for renewal and rain: Hoshanah Rabah & Shemini Atzeret


While I was singing the prayers of the Hoshanot with our Religious School children, the supplications we recite on Sukkot asking God to save our souls and our bodies, the question came up of why we do this.  Why do we ask God for renewal and, on Shemini Atzeret, for rain?  Are we going to force God’s hand with our processions and our chanting?  Is God really only going to inscribe us for good if we ask again and again?  Is rain really only going to come if we perform what Koby Fallon called this “Jewish rain dance?”

The kids had a lot of answers, but I wanted to share mine.  We know that redemption may come to us with, without, or regardless of our prayers.  And we know that rain may come – as it certainly has this week – before, during, and after we ask for it.  We can never force God’s hand.  But when we gather together and chant and process and supplicate, we are acknowledging that some of the most important things in life, things we need to exist at all, are beyond our own power to get for ourselves.  We need to turn to others, and we need to turn to a force outside of ourselves, in order to find renewal and for the earth to find the water that it and we need.  It is that turning, the acknowledgment of both our powerlessness and, perhaps, our power to give others what they lack, that is precious to us and, we hope, to God.

We will be celebrating Hoshanah Rabah with a special service on Sunday morning at 8:00 AM as well with a program on combating climate change at 1:00 PM, and I encourage you to come to both of these programs.  May we and the earth find the renewal that we seek and that we need during these holy days.