Tal: The Prayer for Dew

After this sermon we will engage in a special prayer, Tal: the prayer for dew, led by Rabbi Marcus. I understand ab initio why we would pray for Geshem, or rain, as we need rain for crops to grow. However, why would we do a special prayer for dew?

The origin of a blessing for dew comes from the Book of Genesis, where the blessing Isaac gives Jacob is ויתן לך האלקים מטל השמים ומשמני האבן ורוב דגן ותירוש: “may G-d give you of the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth, abundance of new grain and wine.”[1] The Midrash teaches that this blessing was given on the first day of Passover, hence why we recite the blessing over dew then.[2] Dew would nourish the grain that was harvested on Passover, the barley harvest, and on Shavuot, the wheat harvest.

What’s interesting is that this piyyut, a liturgical poem by Eleazar Kallir,[3] references both the physical dew leading to crop prosperity and the “spiritual dew” which refreshes us.[4] Each stanza begins by asking for dew to flow in the land for a good year and for abundance in the storehouses. However, they end by statements such as “make us a flourishing garden or “may the city which has become an abandoned sukkah become like a crown.” In addition to discussing physical rejuvenation, we are also asking for spiritual redemption.

I think this is precisely why the Tal prayer is read at the beginning of Passover. Not only is this the beginning of spring, of the growing of crops, flowers and trees, but also spring brings about the flowering of our spirits, our thinking about how we are going to rejuvenate our lives through study of Torah. How we will find the Torah to nourish our souls and cause them to sprout and bloom like the dew will nourish the crops.

There are many clues to bring this about. Immediately after my sermon, Rabbi Marcus will introduce a special nusach, or melody, for the Hatzi Kaddish which will be continued throughout the blessing for dew. It is only used twice a year, for the blessings for dew and rain, and it reawakens our souls to the work we have to do in getting closer to G-d.

I’d like to turn to the end of the blessing for dew on Page 452 where we see three phrases: that dew should be for blessing and not for curse, for life and not for death, for satiation and not for famine. The first of these,  לברכה or “for blessing,” is traditionally said after someone mentions G-d’s power to bring about the dew. Like the crops need dew, so too do we need spiritual nourishment, yet we need it for the right reasons. We need to study Torah to bring blessing to us and our loved ones, to increase the vitality of our lives and to give our lives meaning and purpose. We must avoid using Torah to G-d forbid curse out other people who are different than us, cut off part of our life’s vivacity or deprive ourselves of the many great joys of the world. The spiritual realm needs to be used to enrich our lives rather than to detract from them.

A number of us, including myself, follow the Sephardi and Israeli practice of saying Morid HaTal in the Amidah. Ashkenazim traditionally do not do this, instead saying nothing at that point of the Amidah between Passover and Shemini Atzeret. I find joy in saying Morid HaTal because it balances out Morid HaGeshem. It means that every time of the year we are acknowledging G-d’s vitality in bringing us blessing through the natural world, through things as simple as the morning dew.

I hope that for the continuation of Pesach each of us will take the opportunity to study the abundance of Torah we are blessed to have and to work to strengthen our personal connections with G-d and with our people. May we pray not only for physical dew but also for spiritual dew that the teachings of Torah will stick to us give us life and become incorporated into our daily practice. Hag Sameach.

[1] Genesis 27:28

[2] Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer 32

[3] Kallir lived in the 6th and 7th centuries in Israel

[4] Siddur Lev Shalem commentary, Page 375.

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