When on vacation I like to rise early and enjoy the crisp ambiance of an early summer morning. Some mornings I awake to the patter of rainfall, as a soft drizzle sprinkles the ground and cools the air. Other mornings I awake to glorious and bright sunshine, the grass covered by a shimmering dew that glistens like a million stars.

Both mornings are wet, one with rain and the other with dew, yet they evoke very different responses. One is soft and soothing; the other is cheery and invigorating. The difference is usually attributed to the sunlight or lack thereof, but according to the Chassidic masters the difference is also reflected in the moisture itself, in the rain and the dew.

Before his passing, Moses gave his final testament. In introduction, he composed a song of praise, a beautiful composition of lilting poetry. "May the heavens listen as I speak / And may the earth hearken to my words / May my teaching flow like rain / And may my words drip like dew."1

Noting two metaphors that Moses employed, rain and dew, the Midrash offers the following homily: "Israel requested that their inspiration flow like rain, to which G‑d replied, 'No, not like rain. Better that it should drip like dew.'" Israel wanted rain and G‑d wanted dew. What is the difference? Both consist of condensed vapor, both are moist and both can be seen on the ground.

The difference is in the origin. Rain is formed when moisture from below evaporates and rises into the atmosphere where it condenses, forms clouds and precipitates as rain. Dew does not require rising vapors; rather, dew is formed here on earth, when the temperature drops and the warmer vapors come in contact with cooler surfaces.

The cycle of rain begins with an ascent from below, while the cycle of dew requires no ascent.

To understand the importance of this distinction and its relevance to the dichotomy between Moses' request and the divine response, we must first understand its spiritual parallel.

Oscillating Souls

Just as evaporated waters rise from the earth's surface below to the skies above, so do souls. Souls oscillate between the lower spiritual planes, which are further from G‑d, and the higher spiritual planes, which are closer to G‑d.

Like the waters upon the surface of earth, we are often content with life here below where we are spiritually distant from G‑d. Tossed about upon waves of whim, we often focus on the body rather than the soul, on matter rather than form, on the physical rather than the spiritual. But like the surface waters, our contentment cannot last for ever; eventually we too feel the need to ascend.

It is then that our minds turn to G‑d and we remember our spiritual void. We realize that we live in a morally bankrupt society where conceit and arrogance, selfishness and rage, permissiveness and corruption are common. We pine for a more meaningful existence.

With this realization, our material lifestyle loses its allure. Our enthusiasm for it evaporates and, like evaporated moisture over the oceans, we rise to a higher, more spiritual plane. From this vantage point we look back with dismay and form clouds of remorse in the higher atmosphere.

These clouds obstruct the light and replace our cheer with shame. But these clouds must not be permitted to linger. Beads of inspiration must soon form within our heart that will precipitate a torrential outpouring of love for G‑d and inspire us to study the Torah and observe its mitzvot.

Spontaneous Desires, Conscious Response

Understanding the fickle nature of man, Moses knew that few can maintain a constant level of devotion. Moses therefore asked that G‑d make our inspiration flow like rain.

Like rain drops that form from evaporated waters below, so did Moses ask G‑d to accept our penitence from the lower plane, which would in turn raise us to a higher plane and precipitate within us an outpouring of love for G‑d.

G‑d replied that inspiration would instead drip like dew.

Dew forms on the surface below and does not require its vapors to rise. G‑d was saying that He would work to inspire our souls "down below"--independently of the choices we make. When G‑d sees that we stray from the path of Torah, He does not wait for our vapors to rise, He does not wait for us to repent. He proactively plants a bead of inspiration within our soul and stimulates within us the desire for a mitzvah.

There are times that we inexplicably feel a desire to get closer to G‑d. We suddenly experience a need to attend a service at a synagogue or to join a Torah class, to light Shabbat candles or to donate to charity. These desires appear spontaneously; they are not stimulated by anything we see or hear. They are dew-like inspirations that are stimulated by G‑d, not by our ascent from below.

G‑d stimulates the desire but leaves the implementation to us. We have two choices: we can either confine ourselves to a single inspiration, or we can utilize this inspiration to stimulate further inspiration for additional mitzvot.

In other words, we can either make rain or wait for the next dew.

Let's choose to make rain.2