תפילת גשם בזכות האמהות | Prayer for Rain in the Merit of the Matriarchs by Rabbi Jill Hammer

גשם | Geshem

Hebrew (masculine god-language) Hebrew (feminine god-language) English (translation)

זְכוֹר יְפַת מַרְאֶה שֶׁזִיוָוהּ כַּטוֹהַר מַיִם
עָשְׂתָה נְפָשׁוֹת עַל יְדֵי מִקְוָות מַיִם
בְּזִקְנָהּ זָבוּ שַׁדֶיהָ חָלָב כַּמַיִם
זָרְעֶיהָ יִרְבּוּ כְּחוֹל עַל יָד יָם מַיִם
בַּעַבוּרָהּ אַל תִּמְנַע מַיִם
Z’chor yefat mareh shezivah katohar mayim
Asta nefashot al yedei mikvat mayim
beziknah zavu shadeha chalav kamayim
zareha yirbu kechol al yad yam mayim
baavurah al timna mayim

זִכְרִי יְפַת מַרְאֶה שֶׁזִיוָוהּ כַּטוֹהַר מַיִם
עָשְׂתָה נְפָשׁוֹת עַל יְדֵי מִקְוָות מַיִם
בְּזִקְנָהּ זָבוּ שַׁדֶיהָ חָלָב כַּמַיִם
זָרְעֶיהָ יִרְבּוּ כְּחוֹל עַל יָד יָם מַיִם
בַּעַבוּרָהּ אַל תִּמְנְעִי מַיִם
Zichri yefat mareh shezivah katohar mayim
Asta nefashot al yedei mikvat mayim
beziknah zavu shadeha chalav kamayim
zareha yirbu kechol al yad yam mayim
baavurah al timni mayim
Remember the beautiful one: her radiance pure as water!
She welcomed new souls through immersion in water.
In her old age her breasts flowed with milk like water.
Her offspring will increase like grains of sand near seas of water.
For Sarah’s sake, do not withhold water.

זְכוֹר נַעֲרָה שֶׁעַלוּ לִקְרָתָה מַיִם
וַתּוֹרֶד כַּדָּהּ עַל יָדָהּ וְנָתְנָה מַיִם
גַם לַגְמַלִּים שָׁאֲבָה מִבְּאֵר מַיִם
שָׁכָן עַל אוֹהָלָהּ עָנָן מָלֵא מַיִם
בְּצִדְקָהּ חוֹן חַשְׁרַת מַיִם
Z’chor naarah she’alu likratah mayim
Vatorad kadah al yadah venatnah mayim
Gam lagemalim sha’avah mib’er mayim
shachan al ohalah anan malei mayim
betzidkah chon chashrat mayim

זִכְרִי נַעֲרָה שֶׁעַלוּ לִקְרָתָה מַיִם
וַתּוֹרֶד כַּדָּהּ עַל יָדָהּ וְנָתְנָה מַיִם
גַם לַגְמַלִּים שָׁאֲבָה מִבְּאֵר מַיִם
שָׁכָן עַל אוֹהָלָהּ עָנָן מָלֵא מַיִם
בְּצִדְקָהּ חוֹנִי חַשְׁרַת מַיִם
Zichri naarah she’alu likratah mayim
Vatorad kadah al yadah venatnah mayim
Gam lagemalim sha’avah mib’er mayim
shachan al ohalah anan malei mayim
betzidkah choni chashrat mayim
Remember the maiden: rising up to greet her, water!
She let down her pitcher and gave to the thirsty water.
She drew even for camels from the well of water.
Over her tent hovered a divine cloud full of water.
For the sake of Rivka’s righteousness, grant the gift of water.

זְכוֹר רוֹעָה שֶׁבָּאָה עִם הַצְאוֹן לְמַיִם
נִפְטְלָה נַפְתּוּלֵי אֱלֹהִים אַדִּירִים מִמִּשְׁבְּרֵי מַיִם
מְבָכָה עַל בָּנֶיהָ דִמְעוֹת מַיִם
שָׁבוּ בַנִים לִגְבוּלָם כַּאֲפִיקֵי מַיִם
בַּעַבוּרָהּ אַל תִּמְנַע מַיִם
Z’chor roah sheba’ah im hatzon lamayim
niftela naftulei elohim adirim mimishberei mayim
mevakah al baneha dimot mayim
shavu vanim ligvulam ka’afikei mayim
baavurah al timna mayim

זִכְרִי רוֹעָה שֶׁבָּאָה עִם הַצְאוֹן לְמַיִם
נִפְטְלָה נַפְתּוּלֵי אֱלֹהִים אַדִּירִים מִמִּשְׁבְּרֵי מַיִם
מְבָכָה עַל בָּנֶיהָ דִמְעוֹת מַיִם
שָׁבוּ בַנִים לִגְבוּלָם כַּאֲפִיקֵי מַיִם
בַּעַבוּרָהּ אַל תִּמְנְעִי מַיִם
Zichri roah sheba’ah im hatzon lamayim
niftela naftulei elohim adirim mimishberei mayim
mevakah al baneha dimot mayim
shavu vanim ligvulam ka’afikei mayim
baavurah al timni mayim
Remember the shepherdess: she brought her sheep to water!
She wrestled God-wrestlings mightier than crashing water.
For her exiled children she weeps tears of water,
and they will return to their land like returning streams of water.
For Rachel’s sake, do not withhold water.

זְכוֹר נִסְתָרָה נָפְלָה צְעִיפָה כַּמַים
שִׁבְחָה הוֹדֶךָ וְיָלְדָה בְּזֶרֶם מַיַם
רַחְמָהּ וּמַעֲשֶׂיהָ שָפְעוּ מִמַּעַיְנֵי מַיִם
יָנְקוּהָ מֶלֶךְ וְכּוֹהֵן כְּשׁוֹשָׁנָה יוֹנֶקֶת מַיִם
בְּצִדְקָהּ חוֹן חַשְׁרַת מַיִם
Z’chor nistarah naflah tze’ifah kamayim
shivchah hodecha veyalda bezerem mayim
rachmah umaaseha shafu mimaynei mayim
yankuha melech vekohen keshoshana yoneket mayim
betzidkah chon chashrat mayim

זִכְרִי נִסְתָרָה נָפְלָה צְעִיפָה כַּמַיִם
שִׁבְחָה הוֹדֵךְ וְיָלְדָה בְּזֶרֶם מַיִם
רַחְמָהּ וּמַעֲשֶׂיהָ שָפְעוּ מִמַּעַיְנֵי מַיִם
יָנְקוּהָ מֶלֶךְ וְכּוֹהֵן כְּשׁוֹשָׁנָה יוֹנֶקֶת מַיִם
בְּצִדְקָהּ חוֹנִי חַשְׁרַת מַיִם
Zichri nistarah naflah tze’ifah kamayim
shivchah hodech veyalda bezerem mayim
rachmah umaaseha shafu mimaynei mayim
yankuha melech vekohen keshoshana yoneket mayim
betzidkah choni chashrat mayim
Remember the hidden one: her veil like a fall of water!
Her womb and her deeds were more abundant than springs of water.
She praised You for Your glory as there flowed from her birth water.
King and priest suckled her as lilies suckle water.
For the sake of Leah’s righteousness, grant the gift of water.

זְכוֹר אֲחוֹת שֶׁנִצְבָה מֵרַחוֹק לְמַיִם
פוֹאָה לַוְולָדִים וְהִיצִילָם מִיְאוֹר מַיִם
וַתִּקַּח הַתּוֹף בְּיָדָהּ וַתַּעַן בִּבְקִיעַת מַיִם
בַּעַבוּרָהּ נָתָתָ לָעָם בְּאֵר מַיִם
בַּעַבוּרָהּ אַל תִּמְנַע מַיִם
Z’chor achot shenitzvah merachok lemayim
po’ah lavladim vehitzilam miye’or mayim
vatikach hatof beyadah veta’an bivkiat mayim
baavurah natata la’am be’er mayim
betzidkah chon chashrat mayim

זִכְרִי אֲחוֹת שֶׁנִצְבָה מֵרַחוֹק לְמַיִם
פוֹאָה לַוְולָדִים וְהִיצִילָם מִיְאוֹר מַיִם
וַתִּקַּח הַתּוֹף בְּיָדָהּ וַתַּעַן בִּבְקִיעַת מַיִם
בַּעַבוּרָהּ נָתָתְ לָעָם בְּאֵר מַיִם
בַּעַבוּרָהּ אַל תִּמְנְעִי מַיִם
Zichri achot shenitzvah merachok lemayim
po’ah lavladim vehitzilam miye’or mayim
vatikach hatof beyadah veta’an bivkiat mayim
baavurah natat la’am be’er mayim
baavurah al timni mayim
Remember the sister: she watched at a distance from water!
She spoke softly to newborns and saved them from the river of water.
She took up her timbrel and sang at the parting of water.
For her sake, You granted the people a well of water.
For Miriam’s sake, do not withhold water.

The time of Sukkot is a time of fullness and generosity, but also a time to pray for the coming season. Shemini Atzeret, the festival when we pray for rain, is an expression of our need for water, which in the Jewish tradition symbolizes life, renewal, and deliverance. Tefillat Geshem, a graceful fixture of the Ashkenazic liturgy, invokes the patriarchs as exemplars of holiness and model recipients of God’s love. This prayer uses water as a metaphor for devotion and faith, asking that God grant us life-sustaining rain. While its authorship is unknown, it is sometimes attributed to Elazar Kallir, the great liturgist who lived sometime during the first millenium. Each year, we are reminded of our people’s connection to the patriarchs and to the rhythms of water, spiritual and physical sources of life, through this medieval piyyut. While we know that rain is a natural process, formal thanksgiving for water as a source of life, energy, and beauty reminds us that our Creator is the source of our physical world and its many wonders.

My profound thanks go to Rabbi Neil Gillman for his thoughtful comments on this prayer, Rabbi William Marder for his poetic suggestions, and to Michelle Kwitkin for her scholarly editing and her cantorial courage in offering an embryonic version of this prayer for the first time on Shemini Atzeret of 5756.

An Introduction to the Five Verses of the Prayer

The Geshem prayer speaks of five patriarchs, and includes one final verse honoring all the children of Israel. In that spirit, I have included five verses, for Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah, and for Miriam the prophetess, paralleling verses for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Aaron. I did not write a sixth verse, so that the final verse of the original Geshem would bind the two prayers together.

I have placed the verses for Rachel and Leah in the traditional order, although many argue that Leah should take precedence as the elder sister, for reasons of balance with the original poem: Rachel is most associated with Jacob, while Leah, Levi’s mother and Jochebed’s grandmother, is most associated with Moses. Verses of both prayers with appropriate narrative connections may therefore be alternated, if desired.

Because legends about the matriarchs are not as well known as legends about the patriarchs, I will summarize briefly the images and ideas which I drew on in composing my Shemini Atzeret liturgy. As in the traditional piyyut, each line of this prayer invokes water in some way. Each matriarch has Torah text and a wealth of midrash associated with her, and I have alluded to images I feel are most appropriate to a prayer for rain.

“I know that you are a beautiful woman”, Abraham says to Sarah.[1]Gen. 12:11 Sarah’s beauty can be viewed as a symbol of the earth’s beauty which we acknowledge on Sukkot. In the Midrash, Sarah is described as having a radiant countenance, which Abraham becomes aware of by seeing her reflection in a stream,[2]Tanḥuma 5:2 and thus her beauty is associated with water. Not merely beautiful, Sarah is also connected to Jewish faith and continuity. She is credited with the conversion of many women to Judaism on her journey through the wilderness.[3]Bereishit Rabbah 40:5, on Gen. 12:10-11 Her miraculous fertility in old age, and the Holy One’s promise that she will be the ancestor of a great nation,[4]Gen. 17:16 are particularly relevant to our wish for rain in a dry season. The midrash that Sarah nursed the children of many local women after Isaac’s birth, and that those children became the ancestors of converts to Judaism,[5]Bereishit Rabbah 53:9, on Gen. 21:7; Tanḥuma 4:37. further strengthens the relationship between earthly abundance and spiritual faith which we recognize at Shemini Atzeret.

Rebekah’s connection with water is that of generosity. Her open-hearted gift of water to Eliezer and his camels[6]Gen. 24:17-20 is a model for Jewish ways of giving, and speaking of that kindness reflects our hope that God too will be generous with water. The Midrash teaches that Eliezer knew Rebekah was Isaac’s intended when he saw the well water rise up toward her of its own accord,[7]Bereishit Rabbah 60:5, on Gen. 24:16 and this reminds us of the moon and its tides, symbols of the Creator’s power and constant presence. Rebekah’s worthiness as Sarah’s heir was marked by the return of the Divine cloud which had hovered over Sarah’s tent before her death.[8]Bereishit Rabbah 60:16, on Gen. 24:67 In the same way, we hope to be worthy heirs to our ancestors, and to merit the rainclouds which will provide us with sustenance.

Rachel, as a young shepherdess, performs mighty “God-wrestles” with her sister for Jacob’s love.[9]Gen. 29:9 Rachel reminds us of our passionate love for God, a love as strong as the mighty waves of the sea: love which is the reason for the long farewell of Shemini Atzeret, the final festive gathering in God’s courts. Because of her tragic death, she has also become a symbol of compassion in time of grief, a matriarch weeping for her suffering children in Jeremiah’s prophecy.[10]Jer. 31:14-16 Her tears represent our sadness but also our redemption, for in the Midrash it is Rachel to whom God promises the Jews’ return from exile.[11]Eichah Rabbah, chap. 24, on Jer. 31:14-16 Rachel is a reminder that God hears our prayers.

Leah, who was brought to Jacob veiled, represents the mystery of God’s designs. To the Zohar, she is the symbol of God’s hiddenness and God’s creative power,[12]Zohar 154b and on Shemini Atzeret she makes us think of water hidden in the air, waiting to reveal itself. Leah is fertile in body and soul, credited by the Midrash with an abundance of good deeds as well as children.[13]Bereishit Rabbah 71:6, on Gen. 30:1 (Leah’s good deeds); Vayikra Rabbah 30:10, on Lev. 23:40 (Leah’s fertility). Because of her deeds, the Holy One gave her both the Davidic kings and the Levite priests as descendants.[14]Bereishit Rabbah 70:16 The Talmud tells us that she is the first human ever to praise God,[15]Berachot 7b ; Zohar 155b on Gen. 29:35 and on Shemini Atzeret, she reminds us to thank God for the abundance which is ours.

Miriam, of course, is the woman most connected with water, because of the legend of Miriam’s well. For the sake of Miriam’s merit, God caused a well of water to accompany the Israelites in the wilderness.[16]Shir HaShirim Rabbah 5:2 (to Song of Songs 4:5, 4:13) Miriam’s well has become a symbol of spiritual sustenance for Jewish women and for all Jews working to renew Judaism. Miriam is also a symbol of courage, because of her bravery in guarding her brother Moses from harm, and advising Pharaoh’s daughter on his behalf.[17]Exodus 2:4; Shemot Rabbah 1:21-23 There is a midrash that Miriam was the midwife Puah, who saved Jewish children, and that she was called “Puah” because she made soft sounds (poah) to the rescued newborns.[18]Sotah 11b This story also connects Miriam with courage and the struggle for freedom. Finally, Miriam is a symbol of joy, the dancer on the shores of the parted Sea.[19]Exodus 15:20 Her song and dance reflects our joy at our Creator’s miraculous gift of rain.

I feel privileged to honor the matriarchs in this prayer. It is my hope that the ingathering of women’s spiritual experience will continue to provoke a flood of liturgical innovations. May God send such a rain to bless the earth.

Norwalk, Connecticut
Eighth Day of Ḥanukkah
2 Tevet 5756/Dec. 25, 1995

(edited New York City, New York
27 Tevet, 5776/Jan. 8, 2015)

Notes   [ + ]

  1. Gen. 12:11
  2. Tanḥuma 5:2
  3. Bereishit Rabbah 40:5, on Gen. 12:10-11
  4. Gen. 17:16
  5. Bereishit Rabbah 53:9, on Gen. 21:7; Tanḥuma 4:37.
  6. Gen. 24:17-20
  7. Bereishit Rabbah 60:5, on Gen. 24:16
  8. Bereishit Rabbah 60:16, on Gen. 24:67
  9. Gen. 29:9
  10. Jer. 31:14-16
  11. Eichah Rabbah, chap. 24, on Jer. 31:14-16
  12. Zohar 154b
  13. Bereishit Rabbah 71:6, on Gen. 30:1 (Leah’s good deeds); Vayikra Rabbah 30:10, on Lev. 23:40 (Leah’s fertility).
  14. Bereishit Rabbah 70:16
  15. Berachot 7b ; Zohar 155b on Gen. 29:35
  16. Shir HaShirim Rabbah 5:2 (to Song of Songs 4:5, 4:13)
  17. Exodus 2:4; Shemot Rabbah 1:21-23
  18. Sotah 11b
  19. Exodus 15:20

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