Meditation on dew
April 09, 2009
Image courtesy of flickr user PentaxFanatiK
On the first day of Pesach, our daily liturgy changes subtly. There's a place in the amidah -- the standing prayer central to every Jewish service -- where we recite a one-line prayer for rain during the winter, and a one-line prayer for dew during the summer. This is the day when we mark that shift, and we commemorate it by reciting a special prayer called tefilat tal, the prayer for dew.
What follows is a tiny meditation on tefilat tal, the prayer for dew.
In my community we no longer daven musaf on Shabbat or festivals. Today this will be our musaf: this chance to stand before God -- whatever we understand that term to mean: God far above, or God deep within -- and together recite tefilat tal, the prayer for dew.
Geshem and tal: rain and dew. We pray for each in its season, geshem all winter and tal as summer approaches...not here in the Berkshires, necessarily, but in the land of Israel where our prayers have their roots.
In a desert climate, water is clearly a gift from God. It's easy for us to forget that, here with all of this rain and snow. But our liturgy reminds us.
Through the winter months, during our daily amidah we've prayed "mashiv ha-ruach u-morid ha-gashem" -- You cause the winds to blow and the rains to fall! We only pray for rain during the rainy season, because it is frustrating both to us and to God when we pray for impossibilities.
Today we recite a special prayer for dew -- and from here on out, during the daily amidah we pray "morid ha-tal," praising God for creating life-giving dew. As we daven this prayer, notice how it feels to return to the word "tal" which ends each line; this prayer mirrors the Arabic poetic form called ghazal, and that repeated end-word is like a refrain.
Throughout the Psalms, dew represents blessing, a gift from God.
Dew is sustenance which arises as if by magic. Overnight, something mysterious occurs and when we wake water gilds the grasses and the fields. (Of course, the scientific processes are well-understood -- I'm sure it has something to do with temperatures and condensation -- but I prefer to think of dew as a mystery.) Dew represents divine grace: omnipresent, mysterious, blessing everyone equally no matter who we are.
The imagery of tefilat tal is sweet. We ask God to let dew drop sweetly on the blessed land, to let dew sweeten the honey of the hills. Sweet water is required in order for us to inhabit the land -- both the land of Israel, and this land of the Berkshires where we have made our home.
I see the prayer for dew as a chance to practice gratitude for everything necessary and wonderful and ineffable which sustains us. Maybe it's the literal dew you'll find in a few months on the strawberry leaves at Caretaker Farm, where I see so many friends on Shabbat once summer gets underway; maybe it's something more metaphorical. What is the dew for which you are most grateful?
What does it mean to you to rise and be grateful for dew?