Progressively Speaking: Our prayer for rain is a reminder about climate change

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Progressively Speaking: Our prayer for rain is a reminder about climate change

Rabbi Mark Goldsmith takes a topical issue and looks at the Progressive response

When the weather forecast was for rain as we built our synagogue succah this year, we knew we were going to get wet before we had finished. But last year was worse. 

For a succah to be authentic, it should not be so solidly built that it would stay standing in an abnormal wind and the roof should have enough gaps in order for us to see the stars.

This is so we can feel the flimsiness of our dependence on nature when we are sitting in it.  

In Britain, we can mostly depend on enough rain to see us through the year, but that was not the case in Israel or in Babylonia from where our Jewish communities originated.

So, each year after Simchat Torah, our daily prayers includes a prayer for rain every day.  

It is thought one of the origins of the four species that make up the lulav waved on Succot is to make the noise of rain, so critical for a good harvest in the year ahead. 

In some synagogues that celebrate Hoshana Rabbah as the last day of Succot, there is a tradition of beating the willow leaves of the lulav to the ground to sound like the raindrops we will need. 

In the 21st century, we know that we are more and more likely to experience abnormal winds and extreme rainfall where we don’t need it.

For example, rain recently overwhelmed underground train systems in London, New York and Zhengzhou in China.

We must constantly work to keep global warming in check.   

This year’s COP26 conference in Glasgow must achieve pledges and action to address the coming crisis, and there will be a strong Jewish presence there to play our part in putting pressure on governments
to act.    

Our succahs should always be a celebration of our commitment to preserving nature and our engagement with the needs of our planet to be treated with respect.  

Our prayers for rain should be demonstrations that we will act as God’s partners in restricting our impact on the world so that weather systems are not artificially thrown into disarray. 

Who would want their succah blown down every year because the abnormal wind has become normal? 

Mark Goldsmith is senior rabbi at Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue

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