Now that the rainy season has begun (in Eretz Yisroel the first rains called Yoreh begin to fall in the month of Mar-Cheshvan), let us tell you the story of Abba Chilkiah, the "Rain-maker," which the Talmud (Taanith 23 a-b) tells us.

We call him the "Rain-maker," but, of course, he did not make rain, for only G‑d makes rain. Abba Chilkiah only brought the rain down when it was needed.

You surely know that the most precious thing to a land, especially the Land of Israel, is not gold and silver, but water. If the rains do not come in their due season, the fields and woods become parched, the crops fail to grow, and the people are faced with a terrible famine. Man and beast have no water to drink. So, rain means both water and food, and a shortage of rain means a shortage of both food and drink. Rain makes all the difference between a year of plenty or of poverty, not only for the farmer, but for the whole country.

In the days of the Tanaim, the great sages of the Mishnah, there lived in the Holy Land, saintly men to whom the sages and leaders of the people turned in time of distress to pray for G‑d's mercy. These saintly men, because of the saintliness of their lives and learning, could accomplish miracles with their prayers. One of these humble saints was Abba Chilkiah. He was a grandson of Choni HaM'agel, the "Circle-drawer", who was also a famed rain-maker through prayer. He was called the "Circle-drawer," because when rain was needed, he would draw a circle around him and pray to G‑d, saying he would not move out of the circle until rain came.

Abba Chilkiah was a plain laborer, who would hire himself out by the day as a farm-hand. He and his family were content with the bare necessities of life, so he worked only as much as was necessary to provide for these necessities, and the rest of the time he studied the Torah.

Once, a long drawn-out drought threatened the Land of Israel. The leading sages then sent two of their colleagues to Abba Chilkiah to ask him to pray for rain. The two sages first came to his house, but he was not there. So they went to the field and found him stooped over his work, digging up the scorched and crusted earth. They greeted him respectfully, but he paid them no attention. They waited until he finished his work, and then they followed him to his house.

They noticed that when he had finished working, he threw his coat over one shoulder, while he placed a bundle of wood and his spade on the other. They thought it strange, for it would have been more comfortable for him to have placed the wood and spade on top of the folded coat. However, they did not say anything. There were more surprises in store for them. Abba Chilkiah had taken his shoes off and tied them to his belt, and walked barefoot. But when they had to cross a shallow stream he put on his shoes and waded through the water with his shoes on! When they had to pass through a thicket of thorny bushes, he lifted up his garments, caring little for the scratches of his skin. When they reached his home, and Abba Chilkiah and his family sat down to eat, he did not invite the guests to join. Distributing cakes to his children, Abba Chilkiah gave the older son one cake, while the younger one received two.

After the meal, Abba Chilkiah called his wife aside and said to her: "I know that these scholars came to ask me to pray for rain. Let us go up to the roof and pray; perhaps G‑d will accept our prayer and send rain, so they will not have to ask us anything, or feel obliged to us."

Abba Chilkiah and his wife went up to the roof, and each stood in a separate corner praying to G‑d that He send the blessing of rain to His distressed children. Hardly had they finished praying, when rain clouds began to gather, and presently the long awaited rain began to pour down. To the surprise of the two messengers the rain clouds did not appear from the direction of Abba Chilkiah's corner, but from that of his wife’s!

Abba Chilkiah returned to his visitors and said to them, "Revered masters, why have you come to see me?" They replied, "The sages sent us to ask you to pray for rain." Said he, "Blessed be the Merciful One who spared you from having to rely on Abba Chilkiah." But the scholars replied, "We know that the rain came for your sake. However, now that the rain has come, we have nothing to ask you but to explain to us your actions which surprised us," and they went on to ask:

"Why did you not acknowledge our greeting in the field?"

Abba Chilkiah replied, "I had hired myself out for a day's work, and the time was not mine; not even a minute of it. I had no right to make conversation with you and interrupt my work."

"Why did you put your coat on one shoulder, and the wood and spade on the other?"

"Because the coat was a borrowed one; I had borrowed it to wear, but not to use as padding for carrying wood, or tools."

"Why did you walk barefoot on dry land, but put your shoes on to wade through the water?"

"I wanted to save my shoes. I could do it without danger while walking on dry land, for I could see what I was treading on. But there is no way of telling what I might step on while wading through water."

"Why did you lift up your clothes while walking through the thorns, letting your skin be scratched?"

"Because scratches on the skin heal up but a torn garment will not heal."

"Why did you not invite us to break bread with you?"

"Because there was not enough food to go around, and although I knew you would refuse with thanks, I did not want you to thank me for nothing."

"Why did you give your older son one cake, but two to the younger one?"

"Because the older one stays home and if he gets hungry he can ask for food. The younger one, however, goes to school."

Satisfied with all these explanations the sages now asked the last and final question:

"Why did the first clouds appear from the side where your wife stood?"

To which the humble and saintly Abba Chilkiah replied:

"The prayer of my wife was heard first, because she is in the house all day long. When a poor, hungry man comes to the door, she gives him something to eat, and she stills his hunger immediately. On the other hand, when a poor man comes to me in the field, I can only give him a coin, and he has yet to go and purchase some food with it, so that the actual benefit comes to him a little later. That is why my wife's prayer was answered before mine. There may also be another reason: There had been robbers in my street, and I prayed to G‑d to get rid of them, but my wife prayed that they should mend their ways!"