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Zion - The Home of Our Life


Summarized by students

Dedicated to the memory of
Asher Ben Haim

1. The Home of Our Life
2. A Daily Attachment to Zion
3. Let It Rain - On Israel
4. "This Is Not Our Rain"

The Home of Our Life
When, in our prayers, we recite, "Have mercy upon Zion, for it is the home of our life" (Haftarah blessing), we are not merely recalling a Zion of the past, our homeland and breeding ground, a land which became the foundation of our national life and culture, and to which we are bound through our inherited fate. Rather, we are speaking about daily life.

Throughout the period of our exile, we made a practice of relating all of our daily life activities to the land of Israel. We looked expectantly to our future there, just around the bend. We lifted our eyes to the mountains, hoping that we might see a bearer of good tidings approaching. In what follows, we shall see how the entire Jewish life order was bound up with the concept of rain in Israel.

A Daily Attachment to Zion
Let us begin by mentioning a number of well-known characteristics regarding our attachment to Zion:

1. To Face the Land of Israel - Prayer
Jews have always prayed while facing Jerusalem. All of the synagogues in the world have been built according to this principle. In the west they faced east; in the south, north; in the north, south. We have always faced the land of Israel. We learn this from Daniel the Prophet who prayed before the windows which were opened in the direction of Israel, as it is written, "They shall pray to you by way of their land" (Berakhot 30a).

2. Daily Sustenance - Grace After Meals
After eating a meal we recite the "Birkat HaMazon," or Grace After Meals, in the course of which we thank God for granting us "a land which is desirable, good, and spacious," and ask that He "rebuild Jerusalem, city of the Holy Sanctuary, speedily, in our days."

3. Establishing a Home - Marriage
During the joyous marriage ceremony we place ashes on the upper forehead of the groom, and we break a glass in remembrance of the Temple's destruction. This teaches us that no joy is complete so long as Jerusalem sits in ruins. The last of the seven wedding blessings reads, "Let there soon be heard in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride." This is an expression of our hope and desire that Jerusalem, barren and childless, should speedily merit the joyful reunion of her children in her midst.

The righteous R' Yitzchak Levi of Berdichev would write upon his children's wedding invitations that the marriage ceremony will be taking place in Jerusalem on such-and-such a date. However, he would add in a footnote that if we do not merit such good fortune, the wedding will be held in Berdichev on the said date.

4. In Death, in Mourning, and in Resurrection
To a mourner we say, "May God comfort you together with the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem," and in burial we place soil of the land of Israel upon the head of the deceased. However, not only are death and mourning connected to the land of Israel, even the resurrection is connected to Israel: the custom is for the deceased to be buried with his legs directed toward the land of Israel (Chatam Sofer, Yoreh Deah 332). This custom is based upon the verse, "Lead us upright to our land."

Let It Rain - On Israel

Now, let us consider how the expression "Zion, the home of our life" relates to rain. We shall see that there is a very interesting distinction in our daily Amidah prayer between "mentioning rain" (hazkarat g'shamin) and "requesting rain" (she'elat g'shamim) in Israel and abroad. We begin to mention rain in our prayers from Sh'mini Atzeret, and this is true both in Israel and abroad. However, when it comes to requesting rain, there is a difference. In Israel, we begin to request rain from the 7th of Cheshvan, but Jews of the Diaspora begin sixty days after the autumnal equinox. This is based upon the well-known talmudic division between Israel and Babylon (Ta'anit 10a). Rabbenu Asher is of the novel opinion that in light of this distinction, we can conclude that each Diaspora land requests rain at a time that accords with its own specific needs. However, most authorities do not accept this position and recognize only one distinction - that between the Land of Israel and the rest of the Diaspora.

Rabbi A.I. Kook was asked an interesting question by the Jews of Argentina (Orach Mishpat 24). There, the rainy season lasts from Nisan until Tishrei - i.e., our summer is their winter, and they need to pray for rain when it is summer in Israel. They asked Rabbi Kook what they should do in their circumstance. The Rabbi answered their query as follows: We find that all Jews begin praising God for rain at the same time - Shmini Atzeret. This is because the essence of our praise for God is based upon the land of Israel. Through rain, His greatness and might are revealed, and therefore all Jews mention God's might in accordance with the seasons of the Land of Israel, no matter where they are. Only with regard to requesting rain is there a distinction between the Land of Israel and the Diaspora; but within the Diaspora itself there are no inner divisions.

From here we can understand that prayer and supplication revolve around the land of Israel. That is, not only via daily prayer, Grace After Meals, and wedding blessings have Jews tied their fate to Zion, but even on the level of national existence, by mentioning rain in our prayers - the act of mentioning rain is tied to the land of Israel.

"This Is Not Our Rain"
Let us bring a relevant story here which the late R' Neryah zt"l relates in Moadei HaReiya" (p. 137) in the name of the author Yitzchak Ziv-Av:

"I heard this story from a Zionist leader who, as a child in Russia, accompanied his father to the synagogue one Shmini Atzeret. As they recited the prayer for rain the child said to his father, "But, Papa, it's raining outside...why are we praying for rain?"

From under the prayer shawl came the father's stern response, "Child, this is not our rain!"

This story did not receive its full significance until many years later. In the midst of a political whirlpool, the son understood that his father was able to see beyond his own situation, a situation in which even the rain was foreign. He was able to see his true world, a world which though not graspable nevertheless existed! His prayer for rain expressed a sub-conscience belonging to something beyond his present existence, and more concrete than any existence.

From here we receive a good understanding of the words "Have mercy upon Zion, for it is the home of our life" - the Land of Israel is the focus of our life and being. Mentioning rain begins in the land of Israel. Even requesting rain is tied to the land of Israel, and this is the meaning of "Zion" - "the home of our life."


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