Hebrew In Israel | Rain Words – Learn Torah

Hebrew In Israel | Rain Words – Learn Torah

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We are now deep into winter in the land of Israel, and there are several good Hebrew words worth discussing which appear in the Hebrew Bible. 

The first grouping is the question on the relationship between Gešem-Rain and Matar. In overall Matar has a close connection with Gešem, however, a common use of the word is connected to downfall/outpour of something. By analogy the connection between the two becomes very clear, which explains why the two words are interchangeable. As an example we can see how both words are used with the same meaning when Eliyahu describes rain as Matar and not Gešem.: 

וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלִיָּהוּ הַתִּשְׁבִּי מִתֹּשָׁבֵי גִלְעָד אֶל-אַחְאָב חַי-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר עָמַדְתִּי לְפָנָיו אִם-יִהְיֶה הַשָּׁנִים הָאֵלֶּה טַל וּמָטָר כִּי אִם-לְפִי דְבָרִי

“Eliyahu from Tishbi, an inhabitant of Gil‘ad, said to Ach’av, “As YHWH the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there will be neither rain (Matar) nor dew in the years ahead unless I say so.”

1Kings 17:1

On the other hand, we also find matar as a synonymous parallel to Gešem, and as a verb for rainfall. Both ideas can be found in Zekharyah 10:1

שַׁאֲלוּ מֵיְהוָה מָטָר בְּעֵת מַלְקוֹשׁ יְהוָה עֹשֶׂה חֲזִיזִים וּמְטַרגֶּשֶׁם יִתֵּן לָהֶם לְאִישׁ עֵשֶׂב בַּשָּׁדֶה

“Ask YHWH for rain in the spring, YHWH who makes the rain clouds; and he will give them showers of rain, grass in the field to each one.”

The first Matar is rain, however, the second Matar is adjacent to Gešem and is used to describe rainfall. We also have the first Matar as a parallel to Gešem in the second half of the verse. 

In the discussion about winter words we can include the word Tal, which is mostly used to describe morning dew. The word appears in some cases as a parallel to rain as a function of water from heaven.

וַיִּשְׁכֹּן יִשְׂרָאֵל בֶּטַח בָּדָד עֵין יַעֲקֹב אֶל-אֶרֶץ דָּגָן וְתִירוֹשׁ אַף-שָׁמָיו יַעַרְפוּ-טָל

So Israel lives in security; the fountain of Ya‘aqov is alone in a land of grain and new wine, where the skies drip with dew.”

Deut 33:28

This way of speech is done because dew is one of the ways the ground receives water. Lack of dew was considered a bad thing, and when missing, the earth was considered cursed. Such is the case in David’s lament over Šaul and Yehonatan:

הָרֵי בַגִּלְבֹּעַ אַל-טַל וְאַל-מָטָר עֲלֵיכֶם וּשְׂדֵי תְרוּמֹת כִּי שָׁם נִגְעַל מָגֵן גִּבּוֹרִים מָגֵן שָׁאוּל בְּלִי מָשִׁיחַ בַּשָּׁמֶן

“Mountains of Gilboa — may there be on you no dew, no rain, no fields with good crops because there the shields of the heroes were dishonoured, the shield of Šaul was no longer rubbed with oil.”

2Sam 1:21

In the above case, Tal is not necessarily being used as a synonym of Matar, and it can be read as two different items due to the proximity in location. If this was a synonymous parallel, the two words would appear in two different limbs of the verse. 

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