Have you heard this story?

Once there was a great king whose only son

The prince

Ran away as a youth into the wilderness

Heartbroken, the King commanded that fresh wells be dug before each group of houses

and that each citizen must give water to every passerby

By royal decree


One day

A young man crawls out of the desert

dying of thirst, starving

he’s been beaten and bruised. Sores all over his body. Clothes hanging in rags


He spies an oasis with two small houses and a well facing them both


Dragging himself up to the first door, he knocks

A man opens the door, looks down as the young man rasps out one word, one request:



The first man goes to the well, draws up a bucketful of cold water, and throws it in the youth’s face. Then, he goes back inside and closes the door.


Shocked, cold, and somehow more thirsty than before, the drenched young man drags himself to the second door and with his ebbing strength he knocks


The second man opens the door and looks down as the young man rasps out the word

“wa–ter –”

even before the word was fully formed

The second man has gently picked up the youth and brought him indoors.


He goes to the bucket of cool wellwater that is standing, ready, inside, and ladles forth a drink


He gives the beggar the water with immense tenderness patience compassion and baseless love


After he has quenched his thirst, the man cleans his wounds, dresses him in clean linens and shows him to the guest room so he can rest in safety


Once the youth recovers his senses and regains his wits, he becomes angry.


He begins to shout at the man, and bitter words escape his lips.


The first man, hearing the shouts through the walls, assumes that the youth is insulting him. He assumes that the youth is cursing the well water. He assumes that the youth is cursing the king. He becomes angry, himself.


And yet, the wise man understands that the youth is cursing neither his first host nor the well water nor even the King of the land, to whom all waters belong.


Rather, the youth was simply reacting to the way in which the waters had been given to him in the first place.


He sees that the youth has been through trials, has been cruelly mistreated and abused by evil forces along his way.


And, knowing the youth appears as a beggar, of lowly status in the land, and has journeyed a fair distance, the wise man intuits that many buckets of cold waters

might even have been given him

via callous deluge

many times before.


The wise man gives



the benefit of (the)


and for himself

he keeps

his temper



Once the youth is calm, the wise man comforts him with soothing and quieting words, makes sure he has eaten and drunk his fill, and puts him at ease.


The next morning, the good host checks on his charge to see how he is healing.


The youth recovers quickly for he is strong hearted.

Once he is well enough to continue on his journey, the good host finds out where he is bound, and gives him guidance on how to get there.


He sends a man to accompany the youth to his next destination. The good host sends the youth forth with food and a skin of water.


With full heart, the youth thanks the wise man and journeys on. Even after the youth has left the oasis, the wise man continues to check on him with letters.


And then he blesses him.


And the youth blesses the King.




This is the meaning of the verse דברים לב.ב


יַעֲרֹ֤ף כַּמָּטָר֙ לִקְחִ֔י {ס}         תִּזַּ֥ל כַּטַּ֖ל אִמְרָתִ֑י כִּשְׂעִירִ֣ם עֲלֵי־דֶ֔שֶׁא {ס}         וְכִרְבִיבִ֖ים עֲלֵי־עֵֽשֶׂב׃

“May my discourse come down as the rain, My speech distill as the dew, Like showers on young growth, Like droplets on the grass.” (Devarim / Deut. 32.2)


Torah is likened to water, and Torah is truth. As it is written,

צִדְקָתְךָ֣ צֶ֣דֶק לְעוֹלָ֑ם וְֽתוֹרָתְךָ֥ אֱמֶֽת׃

“Your righteousness is eternal; Your teaching is true.” (Tehillim / Psalm 119.142)


If this is so, then water is likened to truth, too.


Moshe is expressing a deep truth: Not all waters, even those that fall from heaven, nourish the land and its greenery the same way.


Floodwaters, flash floods, torrential rains: All these are damaging and can be worse than no rain at all.


On the other hand, rain that is too gentle, mist or passing showers, disperse without quenching thirst of the earth. So Moshe prefaces his prepared words with a gentle metaphor in the form of an educational prayer: “Let my words be like gentle rain, dewdrops, light showers. Let the truth fall gently in such a way that it nourishes, not damages, the young things growing in her path.”

Hark now, look closer: not only the words themselves but the composition of the words on the parchment scroll relay this message. Rather than the usual running lines, this piece is a poem.

A poor substitute are the bracketed {ס} and {ס} in the lines above, which have become printed (and in our case, digitized) stand-ins for the broad emptiness of “Setumah” — a breadth of breathing space in the scroll

Let us look to Aleppo:

See how Moshe arranges his words

in two tall columns?

What is the relationship

of each to each?


We fall short when we forget

that the Torah is also a songbook

a book of poetry

with segments


and sweet

to aid

the digestion

of the mind

and of the heart.. .  .    .    .     .        .


You see, dearest reader, here is the simple truth:

many people treat passerby

like beggars by

dumping cold waters

of their truths

unfeelingly upon each other.


But there is another way:

There are those who are wise enough,

and kind enough,

to treat each beggar like a lost prince,

and give over truths gently,

like dewdrops collecting

on a ginkgo leaf.

We must model ourselves after them.

For their teachings are like sudden rain

in summer that chase away

fear of fire.

Or like those friendly, gentle raindrops

gathering on my windowpane.

You know– the kind of delicate gathering waters in which you can see your own reflection.


For, after all, is it not true that we are all thirsty for gentle waters?


And are we not all journeyers through the desert?



Hai Menahem Av