Embracing the Gentle Blessing of Dew

I hope this note finds you well, and enjoying Pesach and spring-time. I know, from speaking to many of you this week, that this holiday has represented quite the range of experiences for Kavana community members. For some, last weekend marked a glorious return to large, in-person family seders for the first time in several years, while for others, positive Covid tests led to last minute cancellations of plans and pivoting, as we've become so accustomed to doing. Whatever you have done so far to mark Passover, I hope it's been meaningful and sweet.

I hope this note finds you well, and enjoying Pesach and spring-time. I know, from speaking to many of you this week, that this holiday has represented quite the range of experiences for Kavana community members. For some, last weekend marked a glorious return to large, in-person family seders for the first time in several years, while for others, positive Covid tests led to last minute cancellations of plans and pivoting, as we've become so accustomed to doing. Whatever you have done so far to mark Passover, I hope it's been meaningful and sweet.

As I write to you today -- on the 6th day of Pesach, and also the 5th day of the counting of the Omer -- I want to focus our attention on one more shift that happens during this particular week of the year.

On the first day of Passover, Jewish communities everywhere insert into their Musaf prayers a special prayer for dew, Tefilat Tal. This prayer functions like a toggle switch on the Jewish calendar, marking the transition from the rainy season to the dry season in the land of Israel, and the corresponding change from reciting "mashiv ha-ruach u'morid ha-gashem" ("You bring the wind and cause the rains to fall") in the Amidah to "morid ha-tal" ("You cause the dew to fall") in its place.

The Prayer for Dew, Tefilat Tal, that's inserted into our Pesach service is in the form of an ancient liturgical poem known as a piyyut. Piyyutim are a brilliant (and probably far underappreciated) Jewish art-form... this week in conversation, Rabbi Jay referred to the piyyut as a cross between midrash and poetry. :-) This particular piyyut about dew is composed by Eliezer HaKalir,one of the great paytanim of all time, who probably lived and wrote in the late 6th/early 7th century in Palestine. As the Or Hadash Siddur explains, the content of Tefilat Tal can really be read on two levels: on one, it asks for the blessing of dew to sustain us through the coming dry season; on a second level, it is a prayer concerning the end of exile and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. In this sense, it's not accidental that this plea for redemption is recited on Pesach, as we think not only about our past redemption, but also the future redemption that we anticipate and hope to bring about.

In order to fully appreciate the brilliance of this prayer, it's important to have access to the original Hebrew, where it's possible to hear the strict rhyme scheme (4 rhyming lines per stanza!), feel the word play (based on other biblical appearances of the word tal/dew), see the reverse alphabetic acrostic (beginning with the last letter of the alphabet and moving to the first), and experience the overall structure (with each paragraph beginning with the Hebrew word for "dew" and ending with the phrase "with dew"). You can get a taste for some of these elements already from just the first stanza:

טַל תֵּן לִִרְצּוֹת אַרְצָךְ
שִׁיתֵנוּ בְרָכָה בְּדִיצָךְ
רוֹב דָגָן וְתִירוֹשׁ בְּהַפְרִיצָךְ
קוֹמֵם עִיר בָּהּ חֶפְצָךְ
:בְּטַל

Tal ten lirtzot artzach,
shiteinu v'racha b'ditzach,
Rov dagan v'tirosh b'hafritzach,
Komem ir bah cheftzach
b'tal.

Dew, precious dew, unto Your land forlorn,
Pour out our blessing in Your exultation,
To strengthen us with ample wine and corn,
And give Your chosen city safe foundation
In dew.

If this has whet your appetite to read more, I invite you to click here to find the Prayer for Dew in its entirety (in Hebrew and/or English).

For me, meanwhile, I'm particularly struck this year by the symbolism of pausing at this season to celebrate dew. As my colleague Rabbi Rachel Barenblat writes: "Dew represents blessing, a gift from God. Dew is sustenance which arises as if by magic. Overnight, something mysterious occurs and when we wake water gilds the grasses and the fields. (Of course, the scientific processes are well-understood -- it has something to do with temperatures and condensation -- but I prefer to think of dew as a mystery.) Dew represents divine grace: omnipresent, mysterious, blessing everyone equally no matter who we are."

When I hear the word dew, I'm also prompted to return to the Exodus story we tell on Pesach, where dew is also referenced the first time manna appears for the Israelites in the wilderness, in Exodus 16:13-14: "In the evening, quail appeared and covered the camp; in the morning, there was a fall of dew (shichvat ha-tal) about the camp. When the fall of dew lifted, there, over the surface of the wilderness, lay a fine and flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground." There, the connection is clear. Both dew and manna appear overnight on the ground. Both are delicate and sweet. Both sustain us in a "bottom up" rather than "top down" way, as a manifestation of divine love and support. In contrast to rain, which comes from above, directly, and sometimes feels conditional (as in Torah's cycles of rain and draught), dew is always soft and gentle; dew represents unconditional love.

In this week of Passover, the liturgy's focus on dew can prompt us in so many directions. This weekend, as we move through the final days of our Pesach holiday and also experience a taste of Seattle's glorious spring (and it looks like we're in for some exquisite weather!), I invite you to spend some time thinking about dew, the gentle blessing that we typically take for granted. Perhaps you'll take an early morning walk and feel the moisture on your feet, or pause to look closely at the flowers of the garden (a la Shir HaShirim, which Rabbi Jay wrote about last week). In addition, dew reminds us that we already have what we need when we wake up each morning... which is not so different than the seder song Dayeinu, which prompts us towards gratitude. You might consider: What sustains you in this consistent kind of way? What would it look like to try to be the dew -- that is, the consistent, supportive presence of blessing -- for one another as we move through life together?

Finally, I'm happy to share a beautiful song to escort you into the next chag, entitled "Tefillat HaTal v'Geshem", by Ariel Root Wolpe. This is a contemporary take on the prayers for both dew and rain in a singing-as-spiritual-practice modality. As she sings: "Dew, shower the earth. Sing our joyous rebirth. Sooth my hands, and soak my seed. Morid, morid."

Wishing you a chag sameach, and a season-of-dew that is filled with grace and wonder, blessing and mystery, unconditional love, and precisely the support that you need,

Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum