I missed Burning Man this year, which usually satisfies my hankering for camping and also for some ritual in my life. So when I heard about last weekend’s Rain Rave, I extracted my tent from storage and headed up to the Berkshires. Instead of fire, there was water. And instead of feeling awkward about circling a 50-foot-high flaming wooden statue like a pagan worshiper, I was taking part in a modern twist on an obscure celebration from the days of the First Temple. As one rabbi says in the Talmud, “If you haven’t witnessed the rejoicing at the drawing out of water, you haven’t witnessed real rejoicing.”
Held at the Temple in Jerusalem, the drawing out of water (in Hebrew, simchat beit hashoeivah) was a 24-hour-long, over-the-top event, a plea for rain and thus for a good harvest the following year. This year, we were pretty sure we could count on the rain, so we homed in on the deeper purpose—to find a balance between chaos and order in the world and also in ourselves. I wish I remembered more about the event’s origins, but I was too busy drinking the slivovitz and whisky that Amichai Lau-Lavie, who runs the Storahtelling Project and organized the weekend retreat, pushed on us in proper Hasidic fashion.
At the Rain Rave, I was assigned the role of a priestess who danced for the masses in the “Temple.” Later in the evening, down on one knee in the dark, I held a large, empty plastic punchbowl, surrounded by strings of electric lights and purple fabric. The woman next to me slowly poured water from her bowl into mine. As I surveyed the room, I was somehow transported to the real Temple, where a giant candelabra could be seen for miles around and where, supposedly, the people reached a spiritual and worldly equilibrium. On a practical level, the ritual worked: Within minutes of extracting the water from the lake, it was pouring, complete with thunder and lightning. And as for the chaos and order, my tent provided just the balance, impressing me with its water-resistant seams.