A Story about Rain
By Ruth Calderon
Illustrated by Noa Kelner
Rain is vital for our land, but not always so convenient for humans! This adaptation of a Talmudic story gets us thinking about the delicate balance between the individual's needs and those of the public.
"And give us blessed dew and rain across the entire earth" (from the Amidah prayer)
The anticipation of and prayer for rain have accompanied dwellers in the Land of Israel throughout history. Even nowadays, in the 21st century, we look to the heavens, follow the Sea of Galilee's water levels, and compare the yearly rainfall to the multi-annual average. In Jewish tradition, many prayers, blessings and stories center on rain and the good it brings.
But sometimes the rain ruins our plans, and complicates life. The wonderful character of Rabbi Hanina, gets us thinking and talking about our own personal encounter with the world around us, and the ways by which we can bridge over the gaps between our own needs and those of others.
You may enjoy looking at the illustrations together and asking your children to tell the story in their own words. How do the various animals respond to the rain? How has the illustrator chosen to depict the rain and wind? We don’t know what Rabbi Hanina Ben Dossa looked like, but we can imagine how he lived his life in those days, and what the Galilean landscape was like. Try to look for signs of the place and time in the various pictures.
You may want to dress up as the different characters and act out the story to your friends and family. Using facial expressions and hand gestures, you could imagine how grateful the birds and animals were for the rain, and how sorry they were when it stopped.
Following the story, perhaps you would like to discuss the things that did not exist during the time of the Talmud, and make our winters easier, such as umbrellas, electric heating, and so on.
Do you like the rain and look forward to it? Perhaps you would like to discuss fun things to do in winter, and how the rain affects the flora and fauna. Have you ever had to cancel a planned trip or outdoor activity because of the weather? You may want to remind each other of such incidents.
"The whole world is at ease but Hanina is in distress?": What makes us happy does not necessarily make others happy. You may want to discuss clashing desires within the family, and the ways to cope with them.
Perhaps you would enjoy making a box of ideas for rainy day playtime and entertainment. Ask your child to decorate an empty shoebox. In it you can keep little surprises such as stickers, crayons, marbles, soap bubble dispensers, and colorful notes with ideas for family activities on rainy days (word puzzles, reading, cooking and baking, and so on). Stow the box away, and only open it when it rains outside!
Who was Rabbi Hanina Ben Dossa?
Rabbi Hanina Ben Dossa was a Tanna – a Mishnaic sage – who lived in the Galilee some 2000 years ago. He was a wonderful man, and many tales describe his special qualities. Ruth Calderon, the author, based this story of Rabbi Hanina and the rain on the following short excerpt found on page 24b of the tractate of Taanit in the Babylonian Talmud:
Rabbi Hanina Ben Dossa was journeying on the road
It began to rain
He exclaimed: Master of the Universe, the whole world is at ease, but Hanina is in distress?
The rain ceased
When he reached home he exclaimed: Master of the Universe, the whole world is in distress and Hanina is at ease?
It began to rain
חנינא בן דוסא הוה קא אזיל באורחא
אמר לפניו: רבונו של עולם, כל העולם כולו בנחת וחנינא בצער?
כי מטא לביתיה
אמר לפניו: רבונו של עולם! כל העולם בצער וחנינא בנחת?