Sukkot marks the beginning of the rainy season, and Rabbi Eliezer opines that we should start saying masheev haruach umoreed hageshem starting the first day of Sukkot. While Rabbi Yehoshua does not disagree that, in theory, Sukkot is the correct starting point, "since rain on Sukkot is a sign of a curse", he ruled that we should push off the recital of masheev haruach until Shemini Azeret—which is the practice we follow today.
"If not for my covenant, day and night, the laws of heaven and earth, I would not have created" (Yirmiyahu 33:25). Classical Jewish thought saw the spiritual and physical worlds as parallel ones working in tandem. Weakness in one area impacted on the other. It is readily apparent how physical weakness limits our ability to grow spiritually—one who is hungry or persecuted is unlikely to have much energy for spiritual pursuits. But it is a two-way street—spiritual weakness can also have a negative impact on the physical world.
It is hard enough to do what is right. Our wants, desirers, egos, social pressure, and the like often get in the way of acting properly. Even when we do the right thing, our motivation may not be the purest. We may act the way we do as a method of receiving the accolades of others; for honour, wealth, or acceptance in a social group.
Living in Canada, it is hard to get excited about rain. Often it puts a damper on nice summer plans. Even in Israel, where water is so much more of a precious resource, modern methods of irrigation and desalination have allowed the much smaller amount of rain that has fallen in many recent years to go almost unnoticed. Such was not the case in Talmudic times. As we have previously noted, the primary theme of Masechet Ta'anit is the elaborate system of fast days if rain did not come on time—as even a delay of a few weeks of rain could be catastrophic.
One of the most popular images in our tradition is that of a tree. Its many component parts reflect the diversity of our community. Some, like the roots of the tree, are strongly connected to our way of life and are impervious to any winds that may be blowing above. Others, like the leaves, are hanging on for dear life; and others, like the branches of the tree, fall somewhere in between. A tree offers fruit, shade, beauty, and is good for the environment.
"Memati mazkirin gevurat geshamim, from when do we begin to mention the power of rain?" (Ta'anit 2a). Masechet Ta'anit opens with a discussion of when we are to begin reciting masheev haruach umoreed hageshem and v'ten tal umatar during davening. While most of us think of fast days in the context of either Yom Kippur or the destruction of the Temple, Masechet Ta'anit, the tractate of fasting, deals primarily with fasts due to lack of rain.