The holidays of Tishrei precede the fall months when fields need rainfall. Nonetheless, our Sages delayed the prayer for rain until the last traveling pilgrims would arrive home safely. But why does one Jew’s comfort override the critical need for rainfall? A powerful lesson in the importance of Ahavat Yisrael, and how deeply it can impact a person.
Delay the Prayer
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the Alter Rebbe, writes in the Code of Jewish Law: “We begin to pray [for rain] in the Land of Israel on the eve of 7 Mar-Cheshvan, because it is a mountainous land and needs rain immediately following the holiday [of Sukkot]. It would be appropriate to pray for rain immediately after the holiday, but our Sages delayed the prayer for fifteen days to allow the last remaining Jewish pilgrims to arrive home at the Euphrates River, the farthest [Jewish] settlement from Jerusalem, without rain impeding their travels.”
Are We Permitted to Delay?
A simple question arises:
According to Jewish law, a person is commanded by the Torah to pray for his personal needs. This constitutes the Mitzvah of prayer. “This Mitzvah entails the obligation…to request one’s needs in prayer and supplication.” In that light, if the land-owners in the Land of Israel need rain immediately after Sukkot, “because it is a mountainous land,” Jewish law obligates them to pray for rain immediately.
Likewise, there is another Mitzvah in the Torah, “You shall safeguard your souls.” This applies not only to matters of life and death, but even to matters of discomfort. And not even spiritual discomfort (which is of primary importance) but even in cases of material discomfort: “A person is not permitted to cause distress to his body, even by desisting from food and drink.” The reason is, as Halachic authorities explain, “A person doesn’t own his body; it belongs to Hashem.”
In other words, a person is granted use of his body only in his service of Hashem, just as he is granted the use of other physical items for that same purpose. But causing pain to his body, “even by desisting from food and drink,” is unacceptable; not just for weak individuals, but for any individual, even the most healthy and powerful to whom a minor lack of food and drink would not cause any harm.
So the question arises: How can the concerns of Ahavat Yisrael (our concern for the last traveling Jew) override the commandment to pray for our needs during those fifteen days, as well as override the prohibition to cause oneself pain – for the lack of rain during those fifteen days will cause a reduction of produce, which may ultimately result in personal discomfort?
What Is Our True Need?
We can propose the following explanation:
If a Jew is permeated with the love of his fellow Jew, he will remember that the “last Jew” of the pilgrimage is still in midst of his travels (or may just possibly be) and has not yet arrived to his home at the Euphrates. He will recognize that a rainfall, even on the sixth of Cheshvan, the last day of this Jew’s travels, will cause discomfort. Therefore, he doesn’t feel the need for a rainfall for his fields, and he won’t derive any pleasure from such an occurrence, because it may cause pain to this “last Jew” traveling home.
This explains how one is permitted to delay his prayers despite Torah’s command:
Torah’s command applies when you feel a certain need. But the power to feel or not to feel a certain need is granted to the individual. In our case, being permeated with love for his fellow Jew, the knowledge that a rainfall before 7 Cheshvan may cause distress for the “last Jew” will eliminate his desire for this rainfall, and therefore, he will no longer be obligated to pray for it!
The prohibition to cause oneself distress is also irrelevant because he won’t feel immediate pain. Even if he would pray for rain on 6 Cheshvan, he would not receive the resulting bread (which will grow as a result of that rain) that very day, rather, many months later. Therefore, when he withholds from praying for rain on 6 Cheshvan, there is no practical physical pain.
He might feel intellectual or emotional distress (knowing that the growth of his produce will be delayed for lack of rainfall). However, knowing that rainfall on 6 Cheshvan will cause physical pain to the last Jew traveling, his desire for rainfall in his field will disappear, and his emotional or intellectual distress will evaporate as well. To the contrary: he will be distressed if rain will fall before 7 Cheshvan, in empathy for the “last Jew” still on the road.
Transforming Pain to Pleasure
We find a similar concept regarding actual physical pain – regarding fasting. Jewish law rules, “A person does not have permission to cause himself pain, even by desisting from food or drink, unless he does so as a form of penitence, because that suffering is good for him.”
Yet more: We find that the physical pain of fasting is able to bring a person pleasure:
We find in the Laws of Shabbat, “it is permitted to observe a Taanis Chalom [a ‘dream-fast,’ customarily observed after experiencing a dream with bad omens], because it doesn’t negate the rule of enjoying pleasure on Shabbat, for this fast is pleasurable to him.” Moreover: “He derives more pleasure from fasting than from eating and drinking!”
In other words:
Even though a person normally enjoys partaking of food and drink and is naturally inclined to do so, nonetheless, his desire to fast transforms this inclination to derive pleasure from fasting.
The same can be applied to our discussion:
As a result of a Jew’s care and concern for the “last Jew,” he loses interest and desire for rainfall in his fields. He is not distressed by the lack of rainfall, and moreover, if rain would fall before 7 Cheshvan, he would be able to feel empathy for that “last Jew” and be pained for him.
This law emphasizes the importance of love and concern for a fellow Jew. Not only is a Jew willing to forgo his own pleasures for the sake of the “last Jew,” but moreover, being permeated with a feeling of love and connection with his fellow, he does not feel the need for rainfall before 7 Cheshvan at all, and furthermore, such a rainfall would cause him distress, knowing that there might be a Jew out there who is uncomfortable.
7 Cheshvan 5746. (Toras Menachem – Hisvaaduyos 5746 vol. 1 pg 504.)