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D'varim/Deuteronomy 32:2 May my teaching drip like rain and my sayings flow like dew
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This phrase is part of the prologue to the song that Moshe is commanded to teach the Israelites at the conclusion of the time of teaching and review on the plains of Moab before the Children of Israel enter the Land under Joshua's leadership. Unlike other songs in the early Hebrew texts - for example, the Song at the Sea (Shemot 15) or Deborah's Song (Judges 5) - this does not start with praise for HaShem, neither is it upbeat and positive, but is instead a sombre look into the future. After calling heaven and earth as his witnesses, Moshe recounts the way that HaShem has looked after and provided for Israel despite their intransigence and then goes on to prophesy Israel's falling away from HaShem and the consequences that will bring. Moshe is instructed to teach the people the song so that "this song may be a witness for Me against the people of Israel" (D'varim 31:19, ESV).
is the Qal 3ms prefix from the root , which is translated 'drop' here and in "Israel lived in safety, Jacob lived alone, in a land of grain and wine, whose heavens drop down dew" (D'varim 33:28, ESV); the derived noun 'clouds' appears in "if one looks to the land, behold, darkness and distress; and the light is darkened by its clouds" (Isaiah 5:30, ESV). , here with a prefix - like - is rain, while , again with a prefix is dew. Most of the commentators are concerned either with the difference between 'dew' and 'rain' or the parallel between rain and the Torah.
Simcha Bunin, for example, comments that "the Torah is likened to rain. Just as the beneficial effects of rain become manifest only long after it has fallen, the impact of the words of Torah is felt long after the message is heard. Moshe assures us that once these words have sunk in, we will feel the great influence they have on our life."1 Chazal, on the other hand, put these words into G-d's mouth: "the Torah that I gave to Israel, is life for the world like this rain which is life for the world, when the heavens drip dew and rain" (Sifrei 306).Rashi connects Yitz'khak's blessing for Ya'akov, "So may God give you dew from heaven, the richness of the earth, and grain and wine in abundance" (B'resheet 27:28, CJB) with Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah's saying that "if there is no flour there is no Torah; if there is no Torah there is no flour" (Pirkei Avot 3:21) to conclude that rain produces abundance of crops, so enables Torah study, while the study of Torah brings G-d's blessing which must include rain. Dew and rain are contrasted by Chazal who also said that "everyone is happy with dew, for the rain annoys some people such as those travelling the roads or having open vats of wine" (Sifrei 306).
The word translated "my teaching", is derived from the verb which is normally translated "to take". Jeffrey_Tigay suggests that "its basic sense may be 'what is grasped by the mind'". TheBaal HaTurim points out that "I am giving you good teaching, do not forsake my Torah/instruction" (Proverbs 4:2) pairs - teaching - with - my instruction - using the word 'Torah'. Rabbi Hirsch brings the ideas together to say, "Moshe's mission would not rest until his teachings, his Torah, has become , taken into and to the hearts of his people, and the soil of their minds and hearts which had so long remained hard had become softened and loosened, so that the seeds of light and warmth, of knowledge and life would come up and shoot forth, and that his promises, refreshing like the dew would always revive the courage of his people and keep them upright in the hard times that lay before them."
This moves us forward to one of the physical differences between dew and rain. A dew will always be accepted by the soil, for it does not overload it, but provides a gentle and irresistible damping of the surface. Rain, on the other hand, particularly if heavy, will often simply run off dry soil without penetrating it. After drought or a long period of hot, dry weather, the surface of the ground becomes rock hard and cannot absorb any quantity of water. As it rains, there is far too much water to immediately soak in and the bulk of the water runs off and can produce flash flooding, without doing the soil any good at all which remains bone dry beneath the thick baked crust. Hirsch suggests that Moshe's words are meant to provide "the loosening of the hard surface of the ground by the droplets of loosening rain"; as the rain quietly drips, the flow of water is sufficient to soak in and break up the crust and the impact of the water falling helps it to penetrate without running away. The 'dew' of Moshe's sayings softens and loosens the soil so that the rain can be absorbed without being wasted. TheSforno also addresses the question of attitude: "Behold, my teaching shall drop and stream as the rain unto those who understand and are prepared to receive the flow from the fount of wisdom". Our attitude can be a hard crust that stops the word of G-d entering and making an impact in our lives.
In the Parable of the Sower, Yeshua talks about four different types of soil and their ability to accept the seed that the farmer sows (Matthew 13:3-8). The sowing is broadcast, not targeted, so that all the soil types have an opportunity to receive seed. The path is packed down soil, designed to be hard and impenetrable even in rainy weather; the rocky soil is not dug so has dried and baked hard over many years, it has no room for roots and stores no water; the thorny soil is overgrown so that even if the seed is accepted it is choked and only the good soil has been turned over and prepared so that it is moist and ready to accept both the seed and the rain that is needed for growth. The Psalmist tells us how G-d prepared the soil to receive His word: "You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it; the river of G-d is full of water; You provide their grain, for so You have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth" (Psalm 65:9-10, ESV).
G-d wants mankind to receive His word, to respond to it and bring forth a crop of righteousness for Him. He makes sure that plenty of rain is provided. The question is not "Will it rain?" but "Will the soil receive the rain?" The L-rd has promised, "I will give your land its rain at the right seasons, including the early fall rains and the late spring rains; so that you can gather in your wheat, new wine and olive oil" (D'varim 11:14, CJB), but will we accept the rain? The prophet Hosea challenges the people: "Break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the L-RD, that He may come and rain righteousness upon you" (Hosea 10:12, ESV). The people have to break up the rock-hard surface of their lives and open up the soil beneath so that there is an opportunity for G-d's word - His rain of righteousness - to penetrate and bring life.
Moshe draws the picture for the Israelites, comparing his teaching - G-d's Torah - to rain and dew. He urges the people to hear the teaching, to allow themselves to absorb it and to let it make a difference in their lives so that the rest of the words of the song need not come true. We know with hindsight that the people did not hear and would not accept G-d's word; the periods of exile from the Land and poverty within it are proof that G-d meant what He said. Events today show that He still means business and is still pursuing covenant with our people. Believers in Messiah Yeshua are affected in exactly the same way: even though we know Yeshua, we can harden our hearts, adopt an attitude and refuse to let the Spirit penetrate our lives; no rain, no righteousness; no Spirit, no power; no dew, no harvest.
G-d is faithful; He is still waiting for us to open up and let Him in. The Spirit still urges and prompts us to let Yeshua's living water get right inside us and loosen up the soil of our souls so that we may bring forth a crop for the kingdom. The decision is ours. Hosea's words are still true today: "Let's learn about the L-RD. Let's get to know the L-RD. He will come to us as sure as the morning comes. He will come to us like the autumn rains and the spring rains that water the ground" (Hosea 6:3, GWT).
1. - Rabbi Simcha Bunin Bonart (1765-1827) of Peshis'cha, one of the main leaders of Hassidic Judaism in Poland
Further Study: Joel 2:23-27; John 7:37-39
Application: What's going on in your garden? Are you a fine soft tilth, dark moist soil, that readily accepts the rain of G-d's word and Spirit; or are you a hard, baked and cracked, dusty orange crust that the rain just runs off? Whichever you are, why not ask G-d to pour out His words on you, dew and rain together, so that you can bring forth a harvest in the kingdom.
© Jonathan Allen, 2011
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