By Rabbi Edward Feld
On Pesach we conclude the recitation of prayers for rain in the Amidah and substitute the prayer for dew. This liturgical rhythm reflects, of course, the climate of the Land of Israel where there are essentially two seasons: the rainy season and the dry season. Depending on our geographical location, the climatic seasonal changes described by these prayers may have little resonance for us, but it does serve to remind us that wherever we Jews are, we are always connected in some way to the Land of Israel, our dreamland.
The Ashkenazic prayer for Dew (Siddur Lev Shalem p. 375) emphasizes this sense of connection to the Land of Israel and equally our experience of exile away from the Land. Each stanza’s – rhymed quatrains – plea for dew reviving the land becomes an instance for expanding that prayer to include the need for redemption and God’s blessing of dew is seen as a sign that God has not forgotten us. The final stanzas become lyrical expressions of these ideas and God is addressed as a lover “Dod”/Beloved as we ask that we may become a “flourishing garden.”
In Siddur Lev Shalem we’ve also added the Sephardic prayer for dew. The Sephardic piyyut is much simpler, just four words for each line in an alphabetical acrostic. The only theme here is the blessing of the earth. Some of the allusions are delightful: “with dew-fillled song may the land sing;” “with vital dew may the land be revived.” The land becomes a living entity much like nature becomes a silent singer to God in Psalm 19.
It is hard to do a congregational recitation of the Ashkenazic version of Tal, the stanzas are “piyyutic” Hebrew and at best many congregants mumble the chorus, whereas the Sephardic version is easily given to singing with a simple nigun (you can find the text and a transliteration on page 376). Is there a reader out there who can suggest a tune? Perhaps a Passover melody that would work here?
Wherever we are, and however we pray, we may be conscious that especially with current conditions of climate change drought is a constant threat and all of us are dependent on water resources for our physical nourishment, and the semi-annual prayers for dew and rain take on renewed meaning for us.