The Blessing of Rain
The Mishna in Tractate Brachot (9:2) brings a list of blessings that are recited upon seeing natural wonders such as thunder, lightning, mountains, streams, the desert, and even the (Mediterranean) sea. The Mishna concludes:
“On rain and good tidings one says: Blessed is One who is good and does good (Hatov v’hameitiv).
And on bad tidings one recites: Blessed is the true Judge.”
The blessings listed in the first part of the mishna – such as the blessings for thunder “… His strength and might fill the world,” and lightning “… Who made the works of creation” – convey a sense of awe, praising God’s might and mastery. The blessing for rain is a blessing of gratitude, the same blessing recited upon hearing good news.
The gemara questions this mishna, as there is an alternative blessing upon rains which can also be found in Tractate Taanit (6b-7a):
“Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: ‘We thank you, Lord our God, for each and every drop you have brought down for us.’ Rabbi Yochanan would conclude as follows: ‘If our mouths were filled with praise as the sea, and our tongues song as its multitude of waves… May your mercy not forsaken us, Lord our God, as You have not fosaken us. Blessed [are you to whom it is fitting to give] an abundance of thanksgiving.’”
While the gemara will offer answers as to who recites which blessings, the other question that remains to be asked is – When? The gemara in Taanit states:
“When does one make a blessing on rains? When the groom goes out to meet the bride.”
Rashi explains that this poetic imagery refers to the raindrops that splash as they fall into the puddles, causing the water from below to rise to meet the waters below. This implies that it is the amount of rain and that is important. A similar idea is found in the Yerushalmi (Brachot 9:2) which offers several possibilities that revolve around the extent the rain has saturated the earth, implying that a blessing is recited every time there is a heavy rainfall. Yet the Yerushalmi also mentions the possibility that the blessing is recited when rain interupts a public fast that was declared due to drought, indicating that perhaps the element of distress is also a factor.
Timing or quantity?
Rambam (Hilchot Taanit 1:17) does not connect the blessing of rain to public fasts; he rules in accordance with a mishna in Taanit (9:3) that Hallel Hagadol is recited if rain interrupts a public fast due to drought. The only condition for reciting a blessing on rain is the quantity of rain – which he explains like Rashi in Brachot. (Hilchot Brachot 10:5)
Additionally, Rambam rules that while the occasion of heavy rainfall is the same, the text of the blessing is contingent on the person who recites it. Shehechiyanu is recited by someone who independently owns a field, Hatov v’hameitiv – is recited by someone who jointly owns a field (with a business partner or spouse), and Modim/Birkat Hagshamim – is recited by people who do not own a field.
Shulchan Aruch (OC 575:11) rules in accordance with Rambam but adds one vital qualifier. While he does not state that the blessing must follow fasts, he does rule that the blessing for rain is recited when people were “distressed” by a dearth of rain.
When, if ever, should we recite the blessing?
Rema (ibid.) explains that this blessing was not said in Ashkenazic areas as they did not suffer from a lack of rain. This may explain why these blessings are not as well-known as those for lightning and thunder. But thank God, we have returned to the Land of Israel, and there are times when rain is sparse. Additionally, there are Jews around the world that experience drought. So even according to Shulchan Aruch there are times this blessing should be recited. But should it also be recited upon every heavy rainfall, as Rambam seems to suggest?
Mishna Berura offers a possible middle ground, using a careful reading of Shulchan Aruch’s language:
“It’s possible that in the land of Israel when there is great aridity so when the rainy seasons come and rain falls in the proper time everyone is happy, one needs to make the blessing the first time it rains…”
While Mishna Berura continues with Pri Megadim, who rules that this blessing should not be recited in periods of reliable rains, Rav Moshe Tzvi Neriya rules according to the first interpretation of Mishna Berura.
And so – whether it’s the start of the rainy season or after a period of a distressing break in the rains – wherever Jews raise their eyes heavenward awaiting the rain as a bride awaits her groom, and our prayers are answered by rain splashing in puddles – it is time to declare “We thank you, Lord our God, for each and every drop…”