In this week’s parsha which is famous for its 98 curses, the Bnai Yisrael are also showered with conditional blessings. Amongst them it says “Yiftach Hashem lecha es otzaro hatov es hashamayim lases metar artzecha” – “Hashem will open up his storehouse of good – the heaven, to give rain unto your land” (Devarim, 28:12). The Midrash spends a good deal of time on this passuk waxing poetic on the virtues of rain. And then it tells us a story: A pagan approached Rabban Yochanon Ben Zakai and asked, “We have our festivals and you have yours. But they never fall at the same time. Is there any holiday that we may celebrate together?” Rabban Yochanan responded, “There is one day on which we can both celebrate together, a day of rain.” At first glance this looks like an innocent conversation, but perhaps we can suggest an understanding on a deeper level.
Another Midrash tells us that when Rebbi Yehuda Ben Yechezkel saw rainfall he used to praise Hashem for the millions of angels that He must have created and used in order to help the rain descend. He explained that it is a distance of 500 years from heaven to earth, and yet not one drop of rain mixes or collides with another. This can only be because each drop is miraculously guided by a divine angel ensuring its safe passage through the atmosphere until it reaches its destination.
Let’s go back to the conversation between Rabban Yochanan and the pagan. What was the idol worshipper really asking? He was not just shooting the breeze with Rabban Yochanan. There was something way more sinister hidden up his billowing toga sleeve. You see, Jews have always been a thorn in the side of the cultures within which they reside. For we resist absorption. Bil’am said about us, “Hain Am levadad Yishkon” – “Behold the nation dwells by itself”. It’s not because by nature we’re anti-social. It’s rather because that is the only way we can remain steadfast to our values and religion. And the surrounding (host) nations resent this, and they try to create or cultivate the common ground that we might share with them. So too with Mr Pagan. He was searching for a connection, a foothold, anything, but was struggling to find one. And so he asks the leader of Klal Yisrael if there is any way that we can celebrate something together with them. Rabban Yochanon responded with what sounded like a sincere answer, but deep down he was giving over an entirely different message. Just like the rain, we too have as a nation been (and still are) on a long and arduous journey. And just like with the raindrops, Hashem orchestrates that one drop does not interact and fuse together with another. So too hints Rabban Yochanon, He watches over us and helps us-that the raindrop known as Bnai Yisrael does not join together with the others that are travelling down through history with them.
Science teaches us that as a raindrop falls, it loses its rounded shape. It becomes more like the top half of a hamburger bun. Flattened on the bottom and with a curved dome top. Similarly with Yidden, history has changed our appearance. We do not look the same as our ancestors. But we are still the same undiluted and un-merged drop that began its journey many thousands of years ago heading for its final destination that we call yemos hamashiach– the days of Mashiach.
Have a great Shabbos.
Rabbi Nosson Greenberg is rov of Khal Machzikei Torah of Far Rockaway, N.Y., and maggid shiur at Yeshiva of Far Rockaway.