Question: Can you explain the different starting times of Mashiv haruach u’morid hagashem and Ve’ten tal u’matar livracha as opposed to Morid hatal and Ve’ten beracha, and why they are said as part of particular berachot in the Amida, as found in the siddur?
Synopsis: We previously noted that the starting times for the two seasonal changes in our Amida [Shemoneh Esreh] prayer seem to be inconsistent. For when it comes to the winter change, “Mashiv Ha’ruach u’Morid Hagashem and V’ten Tal u’Matar L’vrocha, they start independently of each other while their springtime replacements, “Morid HaTal and V’Ten Bracha are almost simultaneous. We cited the dispute (Ta’anit 2a) between R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua, the former opining that we pray for rain the first day of Sukkot, and the latter that we pray for rain on the last day, as rain on the festival [when we are to dwell in the Sukkah] is a bad omen. R. Eliezer replies that he meant only to commence saying Mashiv Haruach u’Morid Hagashem, which is an attribute of Hashem and a tribute to Him. The other V’Tein Tal u’Matar l’vrocho is a request, which surely we do not seek during the time we are to sit in the Sukkah. The halacha follows R. Yehoshua.
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Answer: In his encyclopedic work, Otzar Erchei Hayahadut (p. 130), HaRav Yosef Grossman, zt”l, offers the following reason that we pray for geshem only on the last day of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret – and thus our mention of geshem in all subsequent tefillot – which is at variance with our practice regarding tal, which we pray for on the first day of Pesach.
This is done in order that we complete all three Festivals [Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot] without rain, since rain on the Festivals is considered a bad omen. [This is essentially the view of Tosafot, Ta’anit 2a – s.v. Me’eimatai, who refer to the Mishna, Sukkah 28b.]
It would thus seem that were it not for the above reason, we would start mentioning rain on the first day of Sukkot. We find somewhat of a resolution to this problem when we look in Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chayyim 114:3, Hilchot Tefilla), who notes a different reason to explain our current practice: “…[R]egarding the mention of geshem, it is done to praise the mighty power of Hashem, and that is when the rainy season has arrived in Eretz Yisrael. That happens to be the last day of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret.”
Yet as we noted before, it would nonetheless still be proper to mention geshem on the first day of Sukkot. The Mishna Berura (ad loc.), referring to the Mechaber‘s ruling that we first begin to mention Mashiv haruach u’morid hagashem in the second beracha [of the Shemoneh Esreh] during the Mussaf tefilla on the last day of Sukkot [Shemini Atzeret], states, “It would really be more proper to mention [geshem] on the first day of the festival [Sukkot] in order that we find favor in His [Hashem‘s] eyes, because that is when we are judged in regard to our water needs [rain].” (The Mishna Berura is essentially quoting Rosh Hashana 16a.)
The Mishna Berura continues, “But since rain is a bad omen on the Festival [of Sukkot] because it would be impossible to sit in the sukkah when it rains, we do not mention rain until the seven-day [biblical] requirement to sit in the sukkah has passed…”
On the other hand, Ve’ten tal u’matar livracha is a clear request, and we do not proceed to say it until we are well into the rainy season.
The Mishna (Ta’anit 10a) gives us two opinions: the Tanna Kamma who states that we start our request for rain on the third of Marcheshvan, and R. Gamaliel who differs and opines that we first do so on the seventh day of the month, which is 15 days after the festival of Sukkot, in order that the last of the olei regel, when the pilgrims who traveled to Jerusalem for the Festival reach the Euphrates River, arriving home unimpeded by stormy rains. Such is the halacha in Eretz Yisrael in accord with R. Gamaliel, as the Gemara (ad loc.) notes. But in the Diaspora, we follow the ruling of Chanania: R. Huna b. Chiya said in the name of Shmuel, “The halacha is in accord with Chanania, who states that we begin our request for geshem 60 days after the start of the autumn season (the autumnal equinox), which is based on the solar calendar.
As we see from the Mishna that follows (Ta’anit 10a), up until the 15th of Marcheshvan in Eretz Yisrael, which is already the rainy season, there is no need to request rain even if it has not yet rained. It is only two days later, on the 17th of Marcheshvan, that individuals begin to fast and pray for rain if no rain has come.
When the Gemara discusses the Diaspora, it refers to Babylonia, where rain before the 60th day after the autumnal equinox would cause damage. The Rosh (Ta’anit ad loc. 1:4) argues that this rule of following Babylonia in all of the Diaspora does not take into account exceptions such as Provence (in southeastern France), where rain was badly needed; otherwise, the planted seeds would be lost. Korban Netanel (ad loc.) explains that birds and mice would eat the seeds, causing great loss. The Rosh states that he has seen [or heard, see Tur, Orach Chayyim 117] that in Provence they ask for rain, “Ve’ten tal u’matar,” at the earlier date of [the 7th of] Marcheshvan [as in Eretz Yisrael], and he finds this to be the correct practice.
The Mechaber (Shulchan Aruch ad loc.) does not note any such exceptions. See also the Taz ad loc., who states that such is not the widely accepted custom, for we do not deviate from the Talmudic ruling recorded in Ta’anit (10a). We ask for rain on the seventh of Marcheshvan in Eretz Yisrael, and 60 days after the tekufa of Tishrei (the autumnal equinox) in Babylonia and the rest of the Diaspora as well.
Indeed, this year throughout the Diaspora we will begin to say Ve’ten tal u’matar livracha this Sunday evening (December 4) at Maariv. May the coming rain truly be a blessing.