the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
“I will grant your rains in their season” – Sanctifying the Name of G-d
Prof. Yaakov Spiegel
Department of Talmud
Parashat Behukotai opens with blessings for following G-d’s laws faithfully. The first of these blessings, and presumably the most important of them, is “I will grant your rains in their season (Lev.26:3).” In his lengthy commentary on this verse Nahmanides noted that rain “is the greatest of blessings.” Conversely, when the rains are withheld, th;is must be considered the most severe of punishments, and so we have the custom of reciting special prayers along with fasting in order to avert the harsh decree. Much of Tractate Ta’anit is devoted to this practice.
In ancient times, it was also customary for the people to appeal to the righteous of their day when rain was withheld, to request that Heaven have mercy and commute the harsh decree. Most famous in this regard is the story of Honi ha-Me’aggel, who brought down rain and of whom the Talmud writes (Ta’anit 23a): “The rabbis taught: What message did the men from the Chamber of Hewn Stone (the Sanhedrin) send to Honi ha- Me’aggel? They cited this verse from Job: ‘You will decree and it will be fulfilled, and light will shine upon your affairs’ (Job ). ‘You will decree’ – you will decree from below, and the Holy One, blessed be He, will fulfill your words from above.” Tractate Ta’anit recounts several other stories of Sages who in time of drought prayed successfully for rain.
The power of the great men of the generation to bring down rain did not cease with the close of the Talmudic period, but is heard of in later periods as well. Some of these stories involve gentiles – an element that rarely figures in stories of the Talmud  – and usually the request for rain came from them. They saw this as a test of the Jewish faith, while the Jews saw it as an opportunity to sanctify the Name of G-d. We shall illustrate this below.
Rabbi Abraham Saba, an exile from Spain in the 15th century, wrote in his Tzeror ha- Mor, on the beginning of Parashat Behukotai, as follows:
It says, “your rains [gishmekhem] in its season” (26:4) – and not “I shall give you rain” – indicating that the rain is ours, as the herdsmen of Gerar said, “the water is ours” (Gen. 26:20). This was our glorious strength when the gentiles received us [amongst them], since we knew how to bring the rain in due season. In this context they say, “Surely, that great nation is a wise and discerning people” (Deut. 4:6), for they see the prayer leader wrapped in his prayer shawl, and when he mentions the thirteen attributes he brings down the rain.  Therefore it says “your rain,” since they are yours. And the reason the rain is ours is that we accepted the Torah which is called water, as it is said, “Ho, all who are thirsty, come for water” (Isa. 55:1). But the other nations of the world, who did not wish to receive the Torah, do not merit having water given them; this is the meaning of “your rain.”
Rabbi Abraham dwelled on
the precise significance of the word “your rain.”
It could have sufficed to say simply “rain”;
so why include the possessive pronoun?
In Rabbi Abraham’s opinion Scripture is informing
us that the rain is
The same Rabbi Abraham wrote the following on the verse in the passage of admonishment, “and I will break your proud glory. I will make your skies like iron” (Lev. 26:19):
I have already noted
that our pride and glory in the hands of those who took us captive was our
having the power to bring the rain in its season, through all our prayers.
This is well-known, for it was on this
condition that we were received in the lands of other nations when we were
exiled. It happened that in
Here we read that in the eyes of the gentiles our ability to bring rain was “well-known.” Moreover, on the merits of the Jews’ well-known power to bring rain, they were allowed to live settle in other lands in the Diaspora. That is to say, in time of drought the Jews had to pray and save their neighbors.
feat is mentioned by another rabbi, Joseph Yaavetz,
also one of the rabbis exiled from
Rabbi ibn Hasdai, who excelled in his intelligence over all the philosophers of his day, even the wise-men of the Moslems and Christians, not to mention the wise-men of the Jews, and was a great man before G-d, for he called to the Lord, and He answered him in gatherings of tens of thousands of gentiles, so that the Lord was sanctified by him.
Presumably this passage refers to the same event mentioned by Rabbi Abraham Saba.
An appeal to the Jews to
bring rain in
Rabbi Joseph Sambari, who lived in Egypt and as far as we can tell finished his historic book, Divrei Yosef, in 1673, also briefly mentions the story about Rabbi Hasdai and adds another two stories about righteous men who brought rain: Rabbi Isaac Hayyun and Rabbi Isaac Abouhab, both of them famous rabbis active in the time of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. 
Hassidim, in the
mishnaic sense of righteous men, and men of action who
could bring the rains were not unique to rabbis from
This can be understood more correctly, to my mind, from what I heard; namely, that when the Moslem kadis prayed for rain unsuccessfully in time of drought, it is said that the great judges amongst them disheveled their hair (removing their headcoverings) and prayed. Some show even greater subjection, instead of a fine scarf that they put around their necks, making a scarf of shoes which they link one into the next and place on their necks instead of a scarf and pray in subservience; so I have heard from my master and father, of blessed memory, who saw that the great judges did this in Jerusalem in time of drought; yet with all this they were not answered, until they finally had to force us to pray. Then the Torah scroll was taken out into the city’s streets and the rabbis of Israel came out; and the Lord heard them and answered them, and they did not return into the city except in a triumphant rainfall; and all the great men of the other nations came to greet them, and the gentile leader came out and spread his shawl over the Torah scroll so that it not be ruined by the heavy rain; and His great name was sanctified. Thus I heard from my father and master, who saw it with his own eyes.
Thus we see from the
above that bringing rain, both in the
Indeed, the historical experience of our people has taught us that if such sanctification of the name of the Lord in the eyes of the gentiles had any impact, it was lasted but a short while, quickly passing away and dissolving. However, this week’s reading also mentions sanctification of the name of the Lord as something perpetual, whose impact on the nations of the world will be significant. This can be seen in Nahmanides commentary on Lev. 21:11:
Even though they are hidden miracles, of which the world takes no special note, yet they become publicized by virtue of their always being throughout the land. For if one righteous person should happen to live, the Lord removing illness from him and giving him long life, this might also happen to a few wicked persons. But when an entire land and a single nation always has rain in its season, enjoys bounty, tranquility, peace, good health, mightiness, and victory over its enemies – something which is unparalleled throughout the entire world – then it all acknowledge that this came from the Lord. Therefore it says, “And all the peoples of the earth shall see that the Lord’s name is proclaimed over you, and they shall stand in fear of you” (Deut. 28:10).
Therefore, let us pray that we may yet merit this elevated stage of sanctifying the Name of G-d.
 On the structure of stories about bringing rain in works of the Sages and later works, see D. Noy, “Tefillat ha-Tamim Moridah Geshamim,” Mahanayim 51 (1961), pp. 34-45.
 Rabbi A.
M. Cohen Rappaport, in Minhah
 This was already noted and remarked upon by the Sages, in Sifra, loc. sit.
 A disciple of Ran and teacher of Rabbi Joseph Albo and other rabbis. He wrote a famous philosophic work entitled Or ha-Shem. He passed away circa 1410.
Joseph Yavetz, Or ha-Hayyim,
 For additional sources, cf. D. Noy’s article cited in note 1; S. Stauber, Divrei Yosef, cited in the previous note; Tzeror ha-Mor ha-Shalem, R. B. Wichholder, Bne Brak 1990, in the notes; A. Gross, R. Joseph ben Abraham Hayyun, Ramat Gan 1993, pp. 25-26 and notes; Y. S. Tefillinsky, Ma’aseihem shel Tzadikim, Jerusalem 2001, pp. 182-187. Further stories, not mentioned by them, are documented, but this is not the place to expand on this topic.