Rain is a powerful symbol in the covenantal relationship between God and the Jewish people. Unlike Egypt, where the water comes up from one’s feet, Israel is a land where people must look to the heavens for rain. As a vital component of all organic matter, it symbolizes life itself.
The single time that the Kohen Gadol would enter the inner part of the Beis HaMikdash was on Yom Kippur to perform the Ketores service and say a single prayer. That prayer – the only prayer ever said at Judaism’s holiest site – requested that God ignore the prayers of travelers who hoped it wouldn’t rain.
The laws of sacrifices contain an interesting directive about the fire that had to burn in all weather conditions, even in the rain:
אֵשׁ תָּמִיד תּוּקַד עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ לֹא תִכְבֶּה – Burn a perpetual flame on the altar that never goes out… (6:6)
On its face, this instructs the attending Kohanim to consistently stoke and fuel the fire. But what would they do when it rained?
The Mishna in Avos says that a miracle aided their task, and the rain would not extinguish the fire – עשרה ניסים נעשו בבית המקדש … ולא כבו הגשמים את עצי המערכה.
What’s interesting is that Chazal understood the divine assistance as rain that wouldn’t put the fire out, as opposed to no rain at all. The Kohanim would still have to work the fire in adverse weather conditions, but God would make sure their efforts were successful.
R’ Chaim Volozhin powerfully suggests that while we don’t control our circumstances, we do influence our trajectory from there.
R’ Joseph B Soloveitchik teaches that it is our duty to broaden the scope and strengthen the intensity of our individual providence because everything is contingent on the effort we put in – השתדלות.
The fire wasn’t “magic” and it couldn’t burn on its own. It required the constant care and support of round the clock shifts year-round.
The miracle comes once we’ve exhausted our efforts.
We must not shirk the crucial role perseverance and perspiration play in solving our problems.
This eternal flame, perpetuated by sheer human determination, was the source of all the fires the year-round services required, including the Menorah, symbolizing the Torah’s as the world’s beacon; and the Ketores, the highpoint of the Yom Kippur services when the Kohen Gadol said his prayer for the rain.
R’ Shamshon Raphael Hirsch simply but powerfully teaches that the special moments of our personal and religious lives are only fuelled by the grit and consistency of our daily grind.
In the same way that Chazal understood the miracle of the eternal flame, the Kohen Gadol’s prayer on Yom Kippur is about the immaturity of a fair weather traveler, who does not understand that not only will it rain; it must.
Like a heartbeat, life itself has ebbs and flows, and we have to do all we can to make sure the blessing has a place to land.
Ask not for a lighter burden, but broader shoulders.