"Rabbi Yehuda said: the Day of the Rains is as great as the day of the Giving of the Torah. The Torah says, 'My teaching shall drop like rain' (Devarim 32:2) and there is no teaching besides the Torah, for it is written, 'For I have given you a good teaching, do not abandon My Torah' (Proverbs 4:2). Rava said: even greater than the day of the Giving of the Torah, as it says, 'My teaching shall drop like rain'-who depends upon whom (who is compared to whom)? Logically, the lesser one depends upon the greater one (and here the Torah is compared to rain)." (Taanit 7a)
Our Sages showed us the connection between the abundance of the rains coming down from above, and the spiritual abundance flowing down to us from above, which vitalizes us through the strength of the Torah.
In one sentence they presented us with the greatness of "the Day of the Rains" and compared it with the day of the Giving of the Torah. This is the opinion of Rav Yehuda who proved it from the verse, "My teaching shall drop like rain." The very comparison of them in a metaphor comes to teach us that there is an equal relationship between them. The Talmudic Sage Rava, however, regarded the Day of the Rains as even greater than the day of the Giving of the Torah. Since the Torah was compared to the rains, evidently the rains are greater, since it says, "'My teaching shall drop like rain;" who depends upon whom? The lesser one is compared to the greater one!" How can we understand the comparison between the rains and the Torah, how dare we equate them and line them up one next to the other?
The comparison becomes comprehensible when we explain that it concerns the abundance of goodness coming down to the world from above. Just as in His grace the Torah was given to us, and life and welfare were imparted to the souls, and this gives them eternal life, so the rains flow and sustain the physical world, in grace, in kindness and in mercy, to give the creatures their existence and to sustain them in the immediate (worldly) life. The basis of equality between them is in the wealth of goodness that comes from above, the physical as well as the spiritual.
How can we understand Rava's opinion, that the rains are greater than the day of the Giving of the Torah? It seems that Rava is focusing on the source of benevolence which comes to the world. Since the goodness of the rains is universal and all-encompassing, benefitting the wicked as well as the righteous, this means that the source of the rains is an Upper World, higher than the world of sustenance. From there, the hand of G-d is open in order to satisfy the needs of all living. In contrast, the wealth of the Torah is merited by only a certain portion of those created.
There is a similar expression in the Talmud regarding the rains that they are "greater than the Revival of the Dead" in that they are given to all-not only to the righteous but to the wicked as well-whereas the revival of the dead is merited only by the righteous. (Taanit 7a)
The same concept is expressed in the language of the Midrash (Shocher Tov, 117), "The falling of the rain is greater than the Giving of the Torah, since the Giving of the Torah is a cause for rejoicing for Israel, and the rainfall is for the whole world, including the beasts, the animals and the birds."
Deborah the prophetess expressed the connection between the Giving if the Torah and the rainfall in her Song (Judges 5:4), "G-d, when you came forth from Seir (to give the Torah at Mount Sinai), when you advanced from the fields of Edom, the earth trembled, the Heavens dripped, the clouds dripped water."
The Talmud (Taanit 25a) tells us of one of the Sages who overheard the conversation of clouds sailing high above: "Let us go and bring rains down on Ammon and Moav." The Sage pleaded, "Master of the world! When you gave the Torah to your nation Israel, you offered it to all the nations (including Ammon and Moav) and they refused to accept it, and now you give them rain? (Let the clouds) pour here!" And so it was, the clouds brought their rains down on the Land of Israel.
Now that the connection between the rains and the Torah has become clarified, let us look at an additional connection relating to two seasonal focal points: Tu B'Shevat (the 15th of Shevat, the halachic new year of the trees) and Tu B'Av (the 15th of Av). Tu B'Shevat indicates the transition from the winter to the spring; similarly Tu B'Av signals the transition from the summer to the fall. The special date of Tu B'Shevat is explained in the Talmud that most of the year's rains have fallen by then, and the tree awakens from the "hibernation" of winter and begins to absorb water from the new rainfall. Now we shall see how this seasonal transition expresses itself in the Torah as well.
The Parsha (portion of the Torah which is read on Shabbat) which follows Tu B'Shevat every year is Parshat Yitro, whose subject is the receiving of the Torah. The Parsha describing the spiritual abundance which was disclosed at the Revelation at Mount Sinai is always read after Tu B'Shevat, when the majority of the year's rains have already fallen. The same is true for Parshat Vaetchanan in the Mishneh Torah, which also describes the Revelation at Sinai and the receiving of the Torah. (Mishneh Torah, literally meaning "repeated Torah" is an expression for the Book of Devarim, alluding to the fact that many of the laws and events of the previous Books are recounted there.) This Parsha is always read after Tu B'Av, which indicates the approaching transition to (fall and then) winter. Both of these Parshiot, which deal with the Giving of the Torah, are read at times of changeover from period to period.
This connection comes to teach us that together with the start of the flowering of the spring on Tu B'Shevat, new life begins for the world, and we must revitalize ourselves and blossom in Torah as well, concurrent with the renewed reading of the Parsha of the Revelation at Mount Sinai. True to the expression that the words of the Torah should "every day be as new in your eyes" so in anticipation of the spring we also awaken to new life and receive the Torah anew, with exultation, together with all the song of the trees and the plants blooming in their spring.
In the summer, on Tu B'Av, at the junction in time leading to the winter, we accept the yoke of the Torah anew. The nights now are getting longer, and the most important and special period for the acquisition of Torah at night is approaching. The Talmud (Taanit 31a) reprimands anyone who does not begin to increase his Torah learning starting from Tu B'Av: "He who increases will be increased; he who doesn't increase will be gathered!" Rashi explains: He who adds nights to days to occupy himself with Torah-adds to his life, whereas he who does not add to his learning at nights-will die before his time."
We have been enlightened by a remarkable meeting between the rains and the Torah. The trees of the field are given new life with the falling of the rain, and starting from Tu B'Shevat they begin their new era and rejuvenation by virtue of the rains of the new year. And when we come to merit the Torah, whose teaching shall drop like rain, it is our obligation receive it anew "like a new written decree from the King" (Sifri, Vaetchanan). Just as the rains bring out the potential of the earth, so the precipitation of the teaching of the Torah will act upon our souls and bring to fruition that which is hidden and stored within us. Just as the rains cause the seeds in the ground to sprout, and the trees add rings to their trunks every year, so the Torah will awaken our spirit within us to open up new rings of life in the Torah of our Tree of Life, and to renew ourselves and blossom in the courtyards of our Lord!
The translated verses from Scripture are quoted or adapted from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's The Living Torah and The Living Nach.