After a week of threatening forecasts, we finally had a rainy day yesterday. It feels so good!
As summer wears on into fall, the color drains out of the landscape, so that mountain and valley, horizon and sky, trees and roads all are seen through a filter of grayish-brown. Distant vistas of mountain and sea are flat and colorless, like a washed-out old photograph.
Then come the first rains (usually during Sukkot), and by December, the dust is washed away and you can see forever. On my morning walk around the moshav with the dogs, I am struck by the vibrant color all around me: a lush green carpet of new growth of weeds/wildflowers, the natural brush and young JNF pine trees in a whole palette of greens and browns, tiny white early flowers against the brown soil, billowing white clouds against a pure blue sky. The air is washed so clear that I can see the ships in Haifa bay. The rain brings a powerful feeling of renewal, of rebirth. I find it fascinating how I respond emotionally, spiritually, to such a simple, routine, natural phenomenon. I suppose it is no different from the feelings I used to have on a crisp fall day in Chicago, or on one of those early spring days when the sun was warm and crocuses peeked through melting snow. The transitions of season bring with them feelings of transition, of renewal, in our hearts. Despite all our efforts to distance ourselves from nature, to control it, to protect ourselves from its vagaries, we still vibrate to its rhythms.
Here, though, I think the vibration might be stronger because the dependency is clearer. Even though I am not a farmer, I know that rain is life and drought is death. As the fall burns on, I find myself thirsty for that first rain, watching for it, sniffing for it. And when it comes, what a feeling of relief, of joy! No wonder that the ancient Canaanites here worshipped Baal, god of thunderstorms. No wonder that the prophets and the psalmist use the image of water as an image of life. No wonder that the prayer for rain at Shemini Atzeret seems so right, so genuine, so authentic.
Israel, with its high tech economy and its export of sophisticated irrigation systems to the whole world, has not gained control over Baal. We are at the mercy of the weather, no less than were our ancient ancestors. The newspapers anxiously chronicle the rising and falling of the water level in Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), the national reservoir, as it fills (in a good year) during the winter and empties during the summer. When things get really bad, the government even runs public service ads on the radio in summer, urging us to conserve water. There is something ironic here: we always took pride in Israel's image as an "old-new" land, combining love of ancient landscape with the most modern sophistication in agriculture, afforestation, preservation; and yet, we seem helpless to create a culture of conservation, to in any way release ourselves from total dependency on the annual rainfall statistics. Each summer the papers are full of doomsday prophecies and discussions of depleted aquifers, of oil-tankers of imported water from Turkey, of emergency desalination plant construction... and then - it rains! And we go back to washing our cars and watering crops that we have no business growing in a semiarid climate. It would be funny if it weren't sad.
On the other hand, I wonder if part of what attracts me here is that sense of dependency, the inability to escape the awareness that for all of our sophistication, we are at the mercy of the elements, that we are not omnipotent. If we do some day get our act together to build a rational water economy here, will the first rain of the season still stir up those same deep feelings? Is there not perhaps something authentic, human, spiritually significant about feeling exposed to the rhythms of nature and our dependence on them year in and year out? Just as I find it somehow gratifying to know, when I see the full moon, that it is the 15th of the Hebrew month, so I also feel good when I see the seasonal rhythm of nature echoed in the calendar of holidays. There is in this correspondence the naturalness, the rootedness, the harmony that Zionism sought - and found. The question is, will we be able to hold on to it?