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Rabbi Daniel Staum - Parshas Va'era 5773 "Hail the Rain"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt’l was a respected and revered leader in the Torah world. He was legendary for his lectures in which he animatedly expounded upon the beauty of the world, the gift of each moment of life, and how close one can feel to G-d if he takes the time to contemplate that beauty and blessing.

One day, Rabbi Miller’s son-in-law entered his father-in-law’s house and was greeted by a most peculiar sight. Rabbi Miller had plugged up the sink and had filled the sink with water. He proceeded to immerse his head completely in the water for a few seconds until he could no longer hold his breath. Then, he would quickly pull his head out and gasp for air. After a few moments he repeated the procedure a second time, and then a third time and a fourth time.

After Rabbi Miller completed this strange ritual his baffled son-in-law asked him for an explanation. Rabbi Miller explained that earlier that day he had been on a train and someone had blurted out that the air smelled badly. Rabbi Miller continued, “When I heard the comment I concurred that indeed the air was indeed foul-smelling. Afterwards, I was annoyed with myself for failing to appreciate the gift of air. I decided to remind myself of its preciousness by depriving myself of air by keeping my head under water until I was about to pass out. Then, when I picked my head up and air filled my lungs, I was able to remember what a great gift air is and that I should never complain about it.”

Six plagues ravaged Egypt and severely vitiated the country’s economy and morale. But Pharaoh continued to renege on his promise and refused to grant Klal Yisroel freedom.

G-d commanded Moshe to appear before Pharaoh to warn him of the impending plague of hail. “You are still oppressing My people, by not sending them out. Behold, at this time tomorrow I shall rain a very heavy hail, such as there has never been in Egypt, from the day it was founded until now.[1]” Rashi explains that Moshe made a scratch on the wall in Pharaoh’s palace and declared, “When the sun reaches this point, at that moment the hail will begin to descend.”

Rain is always preceded by the formation of clouds which darken the skies. If so, how was it possible for the sun to be out at the moment the hail began without any prior cloud cover? How could Moshe use the sun as a marker for the precise moment when the hail would begin?

Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l[2] offered the following explanation: What is the point of a mechitza (‘divider’)? Although prima facie, it appears to be a separator, in truth a mechitza serves to allow disparate commodities to come as close as possible.

For example, the halacha is that men and women may not sit together while praying so that they can maintain concentration on their prayers. However, we want to ensure that every Jew has the ability to pray in shul. How can we accomplish that if men and women cannot be together? The solution is to erect a mechitza. If there is a proper mechitza then the men and women can sit within a few inches of each other and pray because there is a sufficient division between them.

Similarly, when Klal Yisroel gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai for the awesome revelation that would transpire, there was a problem. G-d was about to reveal His Presence in this world in an unprecedented manner. How would the world be able to withstand such a revelation? The only possibility was to create strong mechitzos/divisions that would obscure some of G-d’s Greatness, as it were.

That was the purpose of the three layers of intense darkness that enveloped the mountain at the time of Kabbolas HaTorah. Just as sunglasses shade a person from the blinding light of the sun, so did that intense darkness allow Klal Yisroel to be exposed to such a potent revelation of G-d’s Presence.

A number of years ago, while Chani and I were vacationing in Florida we spent a day in the Everglades. The Everglades are a swampy area where alligators live in their natural habitat. At one point we found ourselves less than a foot away from a full-size twelve foot slumbering alligator. The reason we were not alarmed by our close encounter was that there was a concrete barrier six inches thick separating us from the massive reptile. The secure barrier actually allowed us to get far closer to an alligator than we would have otherwise dared.

When it rains the world is being revitalized and replenished. Without constant flow of water eventually all life in the world would cease to exist. For such an intense outpouring of divine blessing to descend into this world there must be a mechitza to allow such intense blessing to descend into this world. The darkening clouds before rain serve as the mechitza to allow G-d’s bounty to come so close to us.

This is all true in regards to normal natural rain. However, the plagues that ravaged Egypt were anything but blessings. The hail that descended upon Egypt did not require a mechitza as is necessary when there is nurturing rain. Therefore, it was unnecessary for there to be any clouds at the onset of the plague of hail. Therefore, Moshe was able to tell Pharaoh that the hail would begin as soon as the sunlight reached his scratch on the wall.

The beauty of Rav Pinkus’ penetrating thought - aside from being logical - is that it reinforces to us how great of a blessing rain is though we often take it for granted. If we began with Rabbi Avigdor Miller, the ‘quintessential appreciator’ who taught us not to take anything for granted, than it is only apropos to conclude with another vignette from his life.

In his book, ‘Walking with Rabbi Miller’, Rabbi Mordechai Dolinsky, a devoted disciple of Rabbi Miller, relates the following: “In my memory I am walking with the Rebbe, and dark, ‘threatening’ clouds in the distance are closing in on us. Before you know it we feel actual precipitation, intermittent and gentle at first, then turning into a very wet downpour. All this is marked by an increase of action on the street, people running helter-skelter and being very vocal with their complaints. We continue walking together, and the Rebbe changes the topic and addresses the subject of the raindrops. He focuses on the vegetation, the colorful, flavorful fruits that we enjoy and indulge in, and explains that they are actually “coming down” right now in the form of raindrops. Then he continues to enumerate other gifts of Hashem, including the wonderful world of sefarim that are in the making at this moment, as they are printed on paper that grows in the forest. He then points out that “people” are falling; all the new babies, our own children and grandchildren – Klal Yisroel, the tzaddikim!

“Now to see the Rebbe’s face – the joy, the excitement and ecstasy… It is one thing to sit in a dry, comfortable home, lecturing about the wonderful blessings of rain, repeatedly verbalizing this concept. But to be in the wetness of the rain pouring down, and then to be in a state of ecstasy, certainly reflects one’s true feelings.”

Rabbi Avigdor Miller lived every moment of his ninety plus years with joy and serenity. He saw the same world we see and the same events that we witness, but he perceived them differently. When Rabbi Miller saw rain and clouds he saw divine love, even as the rain soaked him!

When one lives with such an attitude the world, all of its pain and suffering not withstanding, is a very beautiful and joyful place.

“Behold, at this time tomorrow… a very heavy hail”

“Behold I am coming to you in the thickness of the cloud”

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[1] 9:17-18

[2] Tiferes Torah

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