19 Great Jewish Sayings and the Mathematics of the Jewish Calendar/The prayer for rain and the blessing of the sun. Outside of Israel , The prayer for rain starts on the evening of December 5th this year
Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money, and spiritual engagement
In Israel we started the payer for rain on Marchesvon 7 (which was the evening of November 4th). Outside of Israel the secular date of the evening of December 4th or 5th (as explained in detail below). This year because of the leap year next year, we start on the evening of December 5.
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Mathematics of the Jewish Calendar/The prayer for rain and the blessing of the sun
The prayer for rain and the blessing of the sun
Two Jewish rituals appear to be fixed by the civil calendar rather than the Jewish calendar. These are the insertion of the words Tal umatar ("dew and rain") in the Amidah prayer recited three times every day, and the Blessing of the Sun made every 28 years. The former is done every day "from Ma'ariv (evening service) on 4th December (and in years preceding a civil leap year, 5th December)" up to and including Erev Pesach. The latter is done on 8th April. What is special about those rituals?
The reason is that they are fixed by reference to the tekufot (solstices and equinoxes). These are calculated from rules due to Rabbi Mar Samuel (3rd century CE). They assume that the length of the year is always 365¼ days, rather than varying between 12 and 13 lunar months, hence the fixed dates in the Gregorian calendar. Of course, 365¼ days is slightly too long (the same as the error in the Julian calendar). Thus the date for starting Tal umatar and for saying the Blessing of the Sun in the 20th and 21st centuries are both a day later than they were in the 19th century, and they will get later in the Gregorian calendar by three days every four centuries.
The date of Tal umatar
In Israel, this prayer is said from 7th Cheshvan, following the Jewish calendar (following the ruling of Rabban Gamliel, Mishnah Ta'anit 1:3). However, the Gemara on that Mishnah (Ta'anit 10a) says that outside Israel, it should not be said until the 60th day from Tekufat Tishri (the autumnal equinox).
The date of the Blessing of the Sun
Mar Samuel said that the world was created in Nisan. Every 28 years by his calculation, the Spring equinox falls on a Wednesday as it did at the time of creation. There is a custom to say a blessing on the Sun when this happens, "... who makes the work of creation". This contradicts the tradition of BeHaRaD, which assumes that the world was created in Tishri, or to be precise at the end of Ellul. Following this view, the Rosh Hashana prayers include the phrase: "the World was created today".
The same date is used both inside and outside Israel.
One who sees the sun at its turning point should say, "Blessed is He who reenacts the works of Creation." And when is this? Abaya said: every 28th year. Talmud Berachot 59b.
Why Is the Prayer for Rain Based on the Civil Calendar?
The connection between Dec. 5 or 6 and Vetein Tal Umatar Livrachah By Yehuda Shurpin Question:
My siddur tells me to start saying the prayer for rain in the Amidah on the night preceding December 5 or 6. Why does it use a secular date rather than a Jewish one?
That's right. From now until the year 2100, in a regular year we start saying the prayer for rain on the night of December 4, and in the year before a (civil) leap year (2019, 2023, 2027, 2031, 2035), on the night of December 5.
How did this come to be? Let's start at the beginning. As a rule of thumb, Jewish holidays and customs always follow the Jewish calendar, which is linked to the phases of the moon. One exception to this rule is the special prayer requesting rain, which Jews in the Diaspora begin saying on the night preceding December 5 (or 6).
To understand why, let's take a look at the history and significance of this small but important prayer.
Praying for Rain
Jews have been praying for rain for millennia. In the ancient land of Israel, rain was a life-and-death concern. A good rainy season meant a good harvest and ample drinking water, while a drought could be fatal to livestock and cripple the economy.
It is first mentioned in the second blessing, as one of a string of natural and supernatural wonders that G‑d performs. Not least among them is that "He causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall."
Here we are praising G‑d, who brings rain, but we are not actually asking for rain. It is only later, in the blessing requesting a bountiful year, that we ask G‑d to "bestow dew and rain for blessing upon the face of the earth . . ."
In both instances, the rain-related phrase is said only during the winter (Israel's rainy season). However, the two prayers follow slightly different schedules. We begin to say "He causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall" on Shemini Atzeret. But, as you point out, we start saying the second prayer, the actual request for rain, only at the beginning of December.
Why the differing start dates? It's an interesting story . . .
The Jews of ancient Israel made three pilgrimages to Jerusalem each year, for the holidays of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. Now, the official rainy season begins on Shemini Atzeret,1 when the Jews were about to start their journey back home after the festival of Sukkot. As much as they wanted the rain, they chose to delay their supplications in the interests of a safer and easier trip.
That is how the practice of delaying the prayer for rain began. In Israel, the prayer was begun only 15 days after Shemini Atzeret (the 7th of Cheshvan), allowing enough time for even the Jews living near the Euphrates to return home.2 This custom is followed by Jews living in Israel until today.
Outside of Israel, however, a more complicated calculation became necessary.
In the Diaspora
For much of our history, the primary Jewish community in the Diaspora was in Babylonia (modern-day Iraq), where the terrain is on a lower altitude than Israel's, and they do not need rain until much later. Therefore, the sages instituted that Jews living in the Diaspora should start praying for rain only 60 days after the start of the halachic autumn, which is known as tekufat Tishrei.3 (This should not be confused with the autumn equinox, which is usually September 22 or 23.) I will explain soon when exactly that is.
Nowadays very few Jews live in Babylonia, and the Jews of North America need rain at a different time than the Jews of Singapore. Nevertheless, we all start asking for rain on the day established for the Jews in Babylonia, regardless of when rains are actually needed in our respective locales.4
The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, Of Blessed Memory, explains that even Jews living in the Southern Hemisphere, where the seasons are reversed, should follow the schedule established for the Jews of Babylonia, because we pray for the needs of the Jewish people as a whole, most of whom reside in the Northern Hemisphere.5
Obviously, this does not preclude us from praying for rain at other times. An individual or community that needs rain at a different time may add a personal prayer into the sixteenth blessing of the Amidah, "Shomei'a Tefillah," where we add our unique requests.6
Now Some Math
We now know that the custom of Jews in the Diaspora is to start praying for rain 60 days after the onset of tekufat Tishrei. But when exactly is that?
In the third century, the Talmudic sage Shmuel calculated the length of the solar year as 365 days and 6 hours. Since the year is subdivided into four seasons, or tekufot in Hebrew, it follows that each tekufah is 91 days and 7½ hours (365.25 ÷ 4 = 91.3125).7
This calculation happens to correspond with the Julian calendar, which was widely used from the year 45 BCE until the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582 CE.
Based on this, tekufat Tishrei always began on September 24 on the Julian calendar,8 and 60 days into tekufat Tishrei was November 22.9
It eventually became clear that the solar year is actually 11 minutes and 14 seconds shorter than previously calculated, and that the calendar was slowly but surely drifting ahead. In the year 1582, the spring (vernal) equinox—which had been on March 25 at the introduction of the Julian calendar—actually occurred on March 11. This was about 10 days earlier than March 21, which is the day that had been "fixed" as the vernal equinox in the year 325.
To remedy this, Gregory XIII made two changes:
He shifted the calendar back by removing 10 days in October, making October 5 of the year 1582 into October 15. This restored the spring equinox to March 21.
To ensure that the calendar would not shift again, Gregory implemented that every 128 years (or, more roughly, three times every 400 years), one day would be removed from the calendar. (This is because the discrepancy of 11 minutes and 14 seconds accumulates into a whole extra day every 128 years.)
The extra day normally appended to the month of February every four years (causing a leap year)10 would not be added to all centaury years, except for those years which are multiples of 400. (Thus, it was not added in the years 1700, 1800 and 1900. However, it was added to the years 1600 and 2000.)
If you're still following me, it should be clear that the old calendars (Jewish and Julian) drift away from the new (Gregorian) calendar at a rate of three days every 400 years.
It's important to note that the Jewish sages were well aware that this calculation was not completely accurate. In fact, for most purposes the Jewish calendar follows the more accurate calculations of Rabbi Adda bar Ahavah, who gives the length of the solar year as 365 days, 5 hours, 55 minutes and 25.4 seconds. However, the sages of the Talmud chose to calculate the length of a solar year as 365.25 days for the prayer for rain and for Birchat Hachamah (the blessing of the sun), because it made the calculations much simpler for the average person to perform.11
What to Do?
We know that the prayer for rain should be said 60 days after the beginning of halachic autumn. Since this date is based on the calculation of Shmuel (and the Julian calendar), and not the Gregorian calendar, we now have to translate this date into our Gregorian calendars.
Here's our final calculation: As mentioned earlier, in the Julian calendar, the sixtieth day after the tekufah is November 22. Now, keeping in mind that the Gregorian calendar chopped off 10 days from the Julian calendar, we have to add them back. Thus, the sixtieth day would be—in the year 1582—on December 2.
Additionally, every centurial year (except for the years divisible by 400) the Gregorian calendar loses one day not dropped from the older calendar. Thus, from the year 1700 and onward, the sixtieth day of the tekufah moved one day every 100 years. In 1700 it was on December 3, in 1800 it moved to December 4, and in 1900 to December 5. However, since the year 2000 is divisible by 400, and the Gregorian calendar did not drop the leap day, the day that is considered the sixtieth day of the tekufah did not move, and remains December 5 until the year 2100, in which it will move to December 6.
The reason that we begin saying the prayer on December 6 in the year before a (civil) leap year is that although the Gregorian calendar adds a day to the month of February every four years for a leap year, the extra day has essentially really been accumulated at the start of the winter season. Therefore, every December preceding a leap year, the sixtieth day is adjusted to December 6.
Also bear in mind that since the halachic day starts on the preceding night, we start reciting the prayer for rain during the Maariv Amidah on the night preceding the dates given above.
So, after all that, what you really need to know is that until the year 2100, in a regular year we start saying the prayer for rain on the night of December 4, and in the year before a (civil) leap year, on the night of December 5.12
As we begin to recite the prayers for rain this winter, let us have in mind that we are joining Jews all over the world—especially those in our Holy Land, where every drop of water is precious—united in our request for bounty and blessing for all of humanity.
The Talmud (Taanit 1:1) explains that in truth, even this mention of rain should have theoretically started earlier, at the beginning of the festival of Sukkot. However, it was deemed inappropriate to mention rain during Sukkot, when we are obligated to eat in the sukkah.
Shulchan Aruch ibid.; Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav 117:2; Responsa of Rabbi Asher bar Yechiel (Rosh) 4:10. See also Shaarei Halachah u-Minhag, vol. 1, pp. 159–163 for an extensive list of halachic authorities who discuss this.
1. "Our lives are fashioned by our choices. First we make our choices. Then our choices make us." – Anne Frank
The words spoken and actions made each day of our life have formed us into the person we are today. And by making good choices today and tomorrow we gradually form ourselves into the best person that we can be. - Chaim Vegoda
2. It was said of Reb Simcha Bunem of Pershyscha that he carried two slips of paper, one in each pocket. On one he wrote: Bishvili nivra ha-olam "for my sake the world was created." On the other he wrote: "V'anokhi afar v'efer" "I am but dust and ashes." Reb Simcha would take out each slip of paper as necessary, as a reminder to himself.
The balance of ego is a huge challenge for us as humans and especially for someone who lives in the public sphere as I do. This quote reminds me that to live in tension is a natural state. And to always be both humble and simultaneously believe in the infinite power God placed in each of our souls: the power to change the world. – Mayim Bialik
3. "Whoever does not see God everywhere does not see Him anywhere." – Kotzker Rebbe
It's not only the out-of-the-ordinary things that are miraculous. Everything about us – the very existence of the world itself – is an awesome miracle that should inspire us to thank and praise the Creator. - Yvette Miller
4. "A Jew who doesn't believe in miracles is not a realist." – David Ben Gurion
For better or for worse Jewish history violates all the laws of history. What would be supernatural for any other people is natural and normal for the Jewish people. No Las Vegas bookie would give a million-to-one odds that the events predicted in the Torah would actually come true or that the Jewish people would outlast the greatest empires, reestablish their state and prosper. The improbable events of the past are a clear indication of God's hand in Jewish history and destiny. - Rabbi Ken Spiro
5. "There is no such thing as 'a small act'; there are only 'small people.' "
Even the seemingly insignificant act is significant when it is part of many cumulative acts. Great people aren't made from one great action; rather they become great via consistently good "small acts." - Rabbi Yaakov Meyer
6. "A person should be willing to give up all his tomorrows for one today, so that he doesn't end up wasting all his todays on one tomorrow." –The Alter of Novardik
All too often we worry about so much about the future that we forget that what really matters is the choices that we make today. - Jonny Roodyn
7. "You marry your homework." - Adrienne Gold
I love this line and quote it often. It reframes the challenges of marriage as God's opportunities for you to grow. It means that this person was sent to you from Heaven to help you realize your potential. I follow up and say, "You thought you were a good person before you got married. Then you got married and your spouse told you, 'You could be better.' " - Lori Palatnik
8. "There are two ways to live. You can live as if nothing is a miracle. You can live as if everything is a miracle." – Albert Einstein
All of life is a miracle – and we are not truly alive unless we grasp the miracle of our being. Three times a day Jews give thanks in our prayers for "Your miracles which are with us every day." Recognizing God's involvement in every aspect of our lives and acknowledging His benevolence in His blessings to us adds enormous meaning to life.
It took me a long time to grasp that the word miracle does not simply refer to the splitting of the sea or the sun standing still; it has far greater meaning as the measuring tool of our lives and the awesomeness of every part of our existence which we far too much take for granted. That's why I don't merely believe in miracles – I live them every moment of my life. - Rabbi Benjamin Blech
9. "When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves." – Viktor Frankl
In every situation in life, we can choose how to respond to our circumstances and through that choice, moment by moment, we grow and transform ourselves. - Sara Debbie Gutfreund
10. "It is not incumbent on you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it." – Ethics of the Fathers, 2:21
God doesn't ask us to make things happen; He only expects us to put in our maximum effort and try our best, then He promises to take us the rest of the way. - Danielle Haas
11. "Life is like riding a bicycle: to keep your balance you must keep moving." – Albert Einstein
Even if one doesn't see success, don't be disheartened and stop moving forward. Keeping peddling and you will get there. - David Rabinowitz
12. "Pain is a reality, suffering is a choice." – Rabbi Asher Resnick
Pain, whether it's physical or emotional, hurts but it is our choices that shape how it will affect our lives. - Tuvia Levin
13. "I am not a Jew with trembling knees. I am a proud Jew with 3,700 years of civilized history. Nobody came to our aid when we were dying in the gas chambers and ovens. Nobody came to our aid when we were striving to create our country. We paid for it. We fought for it. We died for it. We will stand by our principles. We will defend them. And, when necessary, we will die for them again, with or without your aid." – Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to Senator Joe Biden, in June 1982, who threatened to cut off US aid to Israel
Menachem Begin communicated strength, pride and conviction. He was a proud Jew who knew that he had an incredible history and spiritual heritage behind him and consistently drew strength from that. - Josh Pittleman
14. "Who is the wise person? The one who foresees the consequences." – Talmud, Tamid, 32a
So many of the actions we or our leaders take seem good in the moment but have many unforeseen and disastrous long-term or unintended consequences. Leadership demands that we try to examine the future consequences of the behaviors we prescribe before taking action. - Emuna Braverman
15. "It's not how much or how little you have that makes you great or small, but how much or how little you accomplish with what you have." - Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch
We're all given different sets of life circumstances and one basic choice: Will we take those circumstances and build with them or not? Some people have tremendous wealth yet don't seem fulfilled. And we've met people who don't have much yet feel they are achieving their dreams. It is not how much or how little we have, but how we utilize our resources that determines our life experiences. - Rabbi Yaakov Cohen
16. When Rabbi Zusha of Hanipol was on his deathbed, his students found him crying. They tried to comfort him by telling him that he was almost as wise as Moses and as kind as Abraham, so he was sure to be judged positively in Heaven. He replied, "When I get to Heaven, I will not be asked, 'Why weren't you like Moses, or why weren't you like Abraham?' They will ask, 'Why weren't you like Zusha?' "
Our biggest fear in life should be whether or not we are living up to our potential. - Ephraim Shore
17. "BenBag Bag would say: turn it [the Torah] over and turn it over, for everything is in it." – Ethics of the Fathers, 5:26
My mother, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, of blessed memory, quoted this every time she spoke. We don't need to look at self-help books, search the world for new thoughts on living life. Every challenge, every experience, every life solution can be found in the pages of the Torah. - Slovie Jungries Wolff
18. In reply to Albert Einstein's quote, "God doesn't play dice with the universe," Niels Bohr said, "Einstein, don't tell God what to do."
Albert Einstein was a classical physicist and believed that the universe operated in a set of fundamental theories which describes nature. Niels Bohr was one of the early and greatest quantum physicists who believe that there are limits to the precision with which quantities can be known.
Einstein thought that given full knowledge of the current state, it is possible to predict all future states. That is determinism; nothing is up to chance. Einstein thought that with enough data, one could in essence know God's mind.
Bohr thought that this does not seem to be the way the world works. Chance may play a role. But he understood that it's absurd to think that one could know God's mind. - Ben Rothke
19. "For if you remain silent at this time, relief and rescue will arise for the Jews from elsewhere, and you and your father's household will perish; And who knows but that you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this and for this very occasion?" – Book of Esther, 4:14
When Mordechai reaches out to Esther and says that she has to go step up for the Jewish people, she refuses, thinking that she can't do it. He responds by telling her that you were built for this moment. "Who knows if for this very moment you've become royalty."
God throws all of us challenges and sometimes we don't think we have enough power, resources, patience, or strength to go through it. But during those difficult moments, God is saying to us is: who knows if for this reason you became who you are. You became the professional you are, the mother you are, the doctor you are, the rabbi you are, the person you are. God is always preparing us for the challenge ahead. Whenever we reach that point when we think we don't have it in us, maybe it's for that moment that we've been created. - Charlie Harary