Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Asher Ben Haim

Earth, Man, and Rain

The entire purpose of rain and earth is to aid man, to provide him with life in order that he be able to fulfill his role in the world - “Without either, man could not exist.” On the other hand, the earth and the rain are immaterial without man.


Rabbi Uzi Kalchaim zt"l

1. Creating and Sustaining
2. Were it Not for Man
3. "Until Adam Came and Prayed for Rain"

Creating and Sustaining
In what follows, we shall discuss an immutable triangle which exists in creation. What sort of associations does the word "triangle" trigger? For seafarers - the Bermuda Triangle; for engineers - a geometrical triangle; for residents of the Shomron region - the Arab Triangle. Presently, however, we shall discuss an immutable triangle which must by its nature be present everywhere in the universe.

We are all familiar with the triangle behind the creation of human life: man, woman, and the Almighty. Here, however, we shall consider a different, more general and all-encompassing triangle: man, earth, and rain. It would appear that a creative interdependence exists and is at work between these three forces.

When we speak about a triangle, what we mean to say is that regardless of which angle we put on top, we remain dependent upon the other two angles. We employ the concept of a triangle in order to express a relationship and interdependence which exists between all of the parts and ingredients involved, a relationship which transforms them into one complete unit.

The Midrash tells us that "just as the full Name [of God] is employed in connection with a full world, it is similarly employed in connection with the fall of rain" (Bereshit Rabba 13:3).

At the beginning of the Torah's account of the creation of heaven and earth, a single name of God appears: "Elohim." With creation's completion, two names appear: the ineffable name, "YHVH," and "Elohim." Similarly, in relation to rainfall, the Torah employs God's two names: "God (YHVH Elohim) had not brought rain on the earth" (Genesis 2:5).

In other words, sustaining the world via rain is no less important than the creation of the world itself. In the words of the Talmud, "The day when rain falls is as great as the day on which heaven and earth were created (Taanit 8b). Therefore, rain is equal in importance to heaven and earth, for without rain, creation could not exist. The laws of nature which preserve creation's existence are as valuable as the laws which bring creation into being and are to be seen as their equal.

Creation would wither and decay were it not for the water which infuses it with life. Rain allows for the actual realization of the potential which is hidden and concealed within the earth. Without rain, earth remains dense, raw material. Rain uncovers the potential which has been embedded in it since the six days of creation.

We we have considered the nature of the interdependence which exists between the earth and the rain, the mutual supplementation of the their roles. These are only two angles of the triangle; let us now consider the third.

Were it Not for Man
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said: "Three things are equal in importance, viz., earth, man, and rain." Rabbi Levi ben Chiyata said: And these three each consist of three letters, to teach that without earth there would be no rain and without rain earth could not endure; while without either man could not exist" (Bereshit Rabba, ibid.).

We find, then, that the entire purpose of the existence of rain and earth is to aid man, to provide him with life in order that he be able to fulfill his role in the world - "Without either, man could not exist." On the other hand, the earth and the rain are immaterial without man, for without man they too lack purpose, as the Midrash teaches elsewhere: "Were it not for man, there would be no covenant with the land to have rain to fall upon it (ibid. 13:8).

In other words, if man does not exist, neither of these two elements has purpose. This is how we arrived at the conclusion that there is an interdependence between them. Perhaps this is what is meant by the addition, "And these three each consist of three letters." It is meant to underscore the mutual dependence and equality which the three of them create together.

This is the "triangle of creation"! Without rain, the earth would decay and the purpose of its existence would be lost. Life would not be able to subsist upon it. Without land, rain too lacks purpose. What good does it do for rains to fall in the desert or in the ocean, places where they are of no benefit. It is man who gives purpose to both the land and the rain, for without man, what are they worth; they are but, in the words of Job, "rain on a land where no man is; on the wilderness where there is no man" (38:26).

"Until Adam Came and Prayed for Rain"
Therefore, at the inception of creation, so long as man had not entered his place and his position, rain did not appear, for "God had not brought rain on the earth, and there was no man to work the ground" (Genesis 2:5).

Indeed, the sages of the Talmud point to a contradiction:
"One verse says: 'And the earth brought forth grass,' referring to the third day, whereas another verse when speaking of the sixth day says: 'No shrub of the field was yet in the earth.' This teaches us that the plants commenced to grow but stopped just as they were about to break through the soil, until Adam came and prayed for rain for them; and when rain fell they sprouted forth" (Chullin 60b).

Based upon the above source, Maharal provides us with a descriptive portrayal of man's place between the upper and lower worlds:
"Therefore, the plants stopped just as they were about to break through the soil, and there was no rain from above or below. For there was no bond between the lower and upper realms allowing the upper realm to provide rain below, until finally, man, who existed between the upper and lower worlds, caused the rain to be brought from above to below via the prayer which he offered from below to his blessed Creator. It is at this point, and no sooner, that the upper realm and the lower realm unite, and rain comes from the upper realm to the lower realm," (Maharal, Chidushei Aggadot, on ibid.).

Here, the plants stop just as they are about to break through the soil. They do not develop and grow. They are waiting for rain, yet the rain does not come! Why? Because man had not yet prayed. And, on the other end, though the rain is in the heavens, waiting to fall upon the earth, it does not receive the order to fall. What is it waiting for? For man's prayer. This is what is meant by the words "and there was no man to work the ground." There was no human to pray for rainfall! The earth faces the heavens and nothing happens, everything waits . . .

But the moment that man's prayer is heard, a wonderful event will take place in creation! Man's prayer will create a bond between heaven and earth: rain for the plants, plants for the rain. Therefore the sages say, "This teaches you that the Almighty longs for the prayers of the righteous" (ibid.). Only man appreciated the importance of rain! "When man came, however, and he realized that it was necessary for the world, he prayed for it and it fell, causing trees and plants to spring forth" (Rashi on Bereshit 2:3). It turns out that it is man who is the conductor of the orchestra of creation, and he unites and joins the heavens and earth.

We have now gained an awareness of the triangular covenant which exists between the earth, the rain, and man, and of the key which opens the gates and creates the bond between them - the prayer of man. Therefore, we may arrange the triangle in such a manner that the top angle is man's prayer, and it rests upon the foundation of the two other angles: earth and rain.

Noteworthy is the fact that it is none other than Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who informs us of this covenant. It is possible that he was referring to all of humankind as being included in this covenant, "And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks" (Isaiah 61:5). This promise is fulfilled when Israel merits it (see Berakhot 35b). It is also possible that Rabbi Shimon said what he did when he left the cave for the second time (see Shabbat 33b), after having learned that contributing to the inhabitation of the world has value when carried out by Israel, those who love the commandments.
The translated Talmudic and Midrashic sources in the above article come from, or are based upon, the Soncino Judaic Classics Library (CD-Rom).

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