Monthly Archives: May 2018

Behar-Behukotai 5778: Theology as Meteorology

Imagine if your weather app displayed not images of sun and clouds, but icons of good and evil, like this:  ☹. Each city might have a virtue index—with the weather forecast tracking not the jet stream but morality, indicated by a friendly or fierce face. City X has been charitable, so they can expect light rains followed by sunny skies, but City Y has seen an uptick in violent crime, so it is in for a drought or hurricane. Such a system sounds absurd, and yet it is basically what the Torah presents as a theology of weather.

Our second portion, Behukkotai, opens with the prediction that if we follow God’s laws, then God will “grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit” (Lev. 26:4). If we do not obey God and do not observe God’s commandments, then “I will make your skies like iron and your earth like copper, so that your strength shall be spent to no purpose. Your land shall not yield its produce, nor shall the trees of the land yield their fruit” (Lev. 26:19–20).

Rabbinic literature has preserved numerous legends that correlate rainfall to virtue, none of them more famous or entertaining than the legends of Honi the circle drawer (Mishnah Ta’anit 3:8; JT Ta’anit 66d; BT Ta’anit 22b-23; Megillat Ta’anit Scholion, etc.). During a severe drought, the people ask him to pray for rain, and he does, initially without results. Then, when he persists, God delivers a measly drizzle; he persists further, and a deluge follows. Finally, Honi stands in a circle and demands that God send rains for a blessing. It works, but he is chastised by a rabbinic colleague for his insolence. Never mind, Honi is a favorite of God, and of Jewish children everywhere.

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