And no plant of the field was yet in the earth, and no herb of the field had yet grown; for G‑d had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not yet a man to work the land.

And there arose a mist from the earth, and watered the surface of the land.

Genesis 2:5–6

In the land of Israel, the rains are confined to the half-year from Tishrei to Nissan (roughly, October to March). This six-month period is therefore referred to by the Talmud as the “Season of Rains” (yemot hageshamim), while the six months from Nissan to Tishrei (April–September) are called the “Season of the Sun” (yemot hachamah).

The calendar is more than a measure of time; it is a cycle that charts our inner life and our relationship with our Creator. And this spiritual cycle is comprised of two basic parts: a Season of the Sun, and a Season of Rains.

A Rising Mist

Sunlight and rain are both critical to the sustaining of life on earth. Indeed, there is a certain similarity in the manner in which these two sources of nourishment are bestowed upon us—both rain down upon the earth from above, drenching it with energy or moisture. In both cases, we seem passive recipients to a showering of blessing from the heavens.

But a closer examination reveals a significant difference between them. While sunlight is a unilateral gift from above, rain originates as moisture which rises from the earth, forms clouds, and returns as lifegiving waters. So the earth is not, in truth, a passive beneficiary of the rain falling from the heavens; it is she who generates it in the first place, raising columns of mist from her oceans and lakes to water the soil of her landmasses.

The earth, of course, could not do this on her own. It is the sun who stimulates the release and ascent of her watery stores; it is the sun who causes the weather patterns which carry them through the atmosphere and impel them earthward. In other words, the sun, ultimately, is the force behind both sunlight and rain. But the sun’s nurturing of life on earth takes two forms: a) nourishment which the earth simply absorbs from her benevolent provider, such as the sun’s light- and warmth-purveying rays; b) nourishment, such as rain, which the earth generates herself, with the sun serving as the catalyst that wakens her potential for self-nurture and assists in its realization.

All of the above also applies to the miniature world that is the soul of man. Here, too, there is sunlight and rain; here, too, the soul is dependent for both upon her sun, yet differs in her relationship with these two purveyors of her nourishment.

Ultimately, everything we possess, including our potential to initiate and create, is granted us from Above. Yet G‑d sustains our inner lives in two ways: a) with direct and unilateral bestowal of enlightenment and experience (sunlight); b) by enabling and assisting us to gravitate upward in our own search for truth and meaning in life, and thereby generate a spiritual nurturing of our own making (rain).

Both divine gifts are crucial to the spiritual life of the soul. On the one hand, we recognize our inherent limitations. We understand that if there is to be anything that is absolute and transcendent in our lives, we must open ourselves to a higher truth—a truth to which we can relate only as a wholly passive recipient, for it is beyond anything we could possibly generate by ourselves.

At the same time, however, human nature dictates that we identify more with what we ourselves have achieved: that something earned is more appreciated than a gift, that an idea independently conceived is more meaningful than a teaching from the greatest master. That for an experience to become real to us—for it to be grafted into our nature and personality—it must stem from within.

The real or the ideal? Mine or more? We need them both. Indeed, the tension between these two needs is crucial to our growth in all areas—intellectual, emotional or spiritual.

Seasons of the Soul

In the cycle of the Jewish year, the six months from Nissan to Tishrei are the Season of the Sun, and the Tishrei to Nissan months are our Season of Rains.

During the Season of the Sun, we celebrate and re-experience the great unilateral acts of divine involvement in our destiny: the Exodus on Passover, when G‑d descended to Egypt to take for Himself a nation from the womb of a nation, amidst trials, signs, wonders and battles; the giving of the Torah on Shavuot, when G‑d came down on Mount Sinai to grant us His blueprint for life and our charter as His kingdom of priests and holy nation.

The Season of Rains, on the other hand, is a half-year characterized by human endeavor and initiative. The month of Tishrei—the month of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the Ten Days of Repentance—is a time of teshuvah, of soul-searching and self-improvement. The “Season of Rains” also contains the two rabbinical festivals of the Jewish year—Chanukah (25 Kislev to 2 or 3 Tevet) and Purim (14 Adar). Unlike the biblical festivals, which were unilaterally commanded by G‑d, these are humanly initiated festivals, instituted as our response to the milestones in our relationship with G‑d which they commemorate.

Another winter festival is the New Year of Chassidism, celebrated on the 19th of Kislev. The teachings of Chassidism emphasize the need for intellectual appreciation and emotional experience in our fulfillment of the divine commandments (as opposed to mere mechanical observance). Chassidism thus belongs to the “rainy” area of our spiritual lives—our capacity for involvement and initiative in our relationship with G‑d.

Sometimes More, Sometimes Less

The Jewish calendar is based upon the lunar cycle, with the beginning of each month falling within a day or two of the new moon. Since the moon completes its orbit of the earth every 29.5 days, the Jewish month alternates between 29 and 30 days. A 30-day month is called a malei (full month), and a 29-day month is called a chasser (lacking month).

Generally speaking, the months follow a set pattern: Nissan is always full, Iyar always lacking, Sivan full, Tammuz lacking, and so on. However, two months, the months of Cheshvan and Kislev (the second and third months after Tishrei), have no fixed length: in certain years both are full, in other years both are lacking, and in others still, Cheshvan is lacking and Kislev is full.

In other words, the summer months are fixed and unvarying, while the months of the Season of Rains are subject to changes and fluctuations.

In this, too, our calendar reflects the dynamics of the seasons of the soul. The “sunlight” aspect of our spiritual lives is fixed and unvarying. When we surrender ourselves to a higher truth, we also surrender our human frailties and inconsistencies. We surrender to what is infinite, perfect and unequivocal, and what we receive is likewise infinite, perfect and unequivocal.

But when we turn to our “rainmaking” self, our initiatives and achievements are subject to the rises and falls of a finite, imperfect self. This is a season with fluctuating months, sometimes lacking, sometimes full, reflecting the vacillating nature of everything human.

Therein lies the weakness of our rainy season, as well as its strength. By all objective criteria, this is the lesser half of our internal cycle, plagued by the instabilities and deficiencies of the human state. But it is also our more flexible half, where a lack might be transformed into a gain and a vulnerability exploited as a source of blessing.1