Numbers carry sacred and mystical meanings in Jewish tradition. The number 40, with its ancient watery connotations, is a central symbol of sin and repentance in Jewish thought.
This is a disclaimer to acknowledge that I know nothing about the mystical and to openly admit that, while a healthy amount of curiosity is admirable, I am not inclined to learn more about any of it.
It is often said, and many people believe, that if it rains on Shavuos, 40 days and nights of rain will follow. But what “is said” is not always true. Hopefully, that belief is false and it won’t happen. True, an adequate rainfall is important. We say prayers for geshem (rain). Rain is good for our lawns and for our flowers, but it is positively essential to the farming industry and for cattle. An insufficient amount of the wet stuff can lead to drought and even starving. But a full week of rain is enough for most people.
Currently, we are on day three of heavy-duty rain. And just a few days ago, on Tuesday evening of this week, we were treated to a horrendous and somewhat frightening storm. The skies opened up, as they say, and the downpour was accompanied by thunder, lightning, and even hail. Unhappily, the promise of the weather forecasters is that there will be three days more of rain. It’s reminiscent of monsoon season.
Chances are that in past years there have been Shavuos holidays when it has rained. But things seem to be getting out of hand. Perhaps the farmers see it differently, but for the rest of us there are limits as to how many more rainy days we can handle. As of today, which is just before the Shabbos that is immediately followed by Shavuos (known by most of us as the dreaded three-day yom tov), we are not looking forward to a rainy mess.
Walking to shul is likely to be an uncomfortable trek. Once inside the building, things are probably going to be messy. Wet boots will make the floor slippery, and dripping rain coats will add to that. This relates only to the condition of the shul’s building. But it doesn’t address the big issue, especially where the women and children are concerned, of feeling uncomfortably damp and chilled. The prospect of all that is daunting, but it doesn’t compare to the prospect of 40 more days of the wet stuff.
I have tweaked my prayers, and they’re different from the standard prayer for rain. I prayed for the rain to take a break until after Shavuos. As my mother taught me at an early age, “Rain, rain, go away, come again another day.” That’s what I want, and my suspicion is that others feel the same way. That’s the way it is!
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-295-4435.