California's record rainstorms are a blessing, a hardship and a spiritual experience

Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

LOS ANGELES -- In a state crippled by drought, how are we to make sense of the destructive storms that have led our governor to proclaim a state of emergency, even as they fill our reservoirs and replenish our fields?

Here at last is the life-giving water we’ve yearned for: nourishing, regenerative, cleansing and essential, especially in the wake of the state’s driest three-year period on record. And yet, these desperately needed rains have been responsible for mudslides, flooding, power outages and, most tragically, the loss of lives.

It may feel like California is being cursed by the gods, but in fact humanity’s relationship with rain has always been paradoxical. Rain has the ability to create, and to destroy. And so it becomes a matter of faith: We pray for it, even as we fear it.

“In Judaism there is the concept of beneficial rain,” said Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback, senior rabbi at Stephen Wise Temple in Bel-Air. “We pray for rain in its proper amount, and at the right time.”

Judaism emerged in the Middle East in a climate much like Southern California’s. Rains came in the winter; the summers were long and dry. Today, Jewish people around the world pray for rain beginning on the last day of the fall harvest festival of Sukkot and continue until Passover arrives in the spring.

The tension between too much rain and not enough is embedded in a long and poetic prayer, recited by worshipers for thousands of years. It ends with these words:


You are Adonai, our God

Who causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall.

For blessing and not for curse.

For life and not for death.


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