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I heard in a dvar Torah that Tal, dew, is automatic (or much more so than rain). This is connected to the view that Pesach represents אתערותא דלעילא that is that HaShem helps us even though we are not yet worthy.

Is it true to say that dew is automatic and if so why do we have a Tefillas Tal?

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    What do you mean by "automatic"? מאליו? קבוע? – Al Berko Apr 21 at 21:29
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    Is it similar to "if the guts work automatically why do we say אשר יצר"? – Al Berko Apr 21 at 21:30
  • We pray for good dews. Bad dews could come instead. – Double AA Apr 22 at 1:13
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    (this doesn't really answer your question but it's worth noting that indeed you are right there is never ever an obligation ever to pray for or mention dew in any prayer ever. most if not all contemporary nuschaot customarily include it at various points, but you'd definitely fulfill your obligation if you just skipped all of them entirely) – Double AA Apr 22 at 1:59
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    I realize that the Gemarah (you didn't mention the source of this info) does not always collude with science. FWIW, I have decent knowledge of meteorology and I can tell you that dew is not "automatic" and requires some fairly precise meteorological conditions to occur. In some ways, it's more complex than rain. You'll notice yourself 2 (of many) factors that prevent dew. It hardly ever occurs on cloudy nights (fog is a form of "dew" but, not exactly). It also won't form if the constant wind is above approx. 10 mph. In short, it certainly doesn't occur daily, & it's not "automatic". – DanF Apr 22 at 2:36
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The Talmud states:

Taanit 3a-3b

תנא בטל וברוחות לא חייבו חכמים להזכיר ואם בא להזכיר מזכיר מ"ט א"ר חנינא לפי שאין נעצרין וטל מנלן דלא מיעצר דכתיב ויאמר אליהו התשבי מתושבי גלעד אל אחאב חי ה' אלהי ישראל אשר עמדתי לפניו אם יהיה השנים האלה טל ומטר כי אם לפי דברי וכתיב לך הראה אל אחאב ואתנה מטר על פני האדמה ואילו טל לא קאמר ליה מאי טעמא משום דלא דלא מיעצר וכי מאחר דלא מיעצר אליהו אשתבועי למה ליה הכי קא"ל אפילו טל דברכה נמי לא אתי וליהדריה לטל דברכה משום דלא מינכרא מילתא

It has been taught: The Sages did not make it obligatory on one to make mention of dew and winds, but if one desires to make mention he may do so. What is the reason? — R. Hanina said: Because they are never withheld. And how do we know that dew is never withheld? — For it is written, And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab: As the Lord the God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years but according to my word. And it is written further, Go, show thyself unto Ahab, and I will send rain upon the land. Of dew, however, Scripture does not speak. Why? Because it is never withheld. But if it is never withheld, why did Elijah take an oath on it? — This is what he conveyed to him [Ahab]. THe dew of blessing also would not fall. Then the dew of blessing should also have been restored? — Because the difference would not have been discernable. (Soncino translation)

It seems from this passage that one need never make any mention of dew in any prayers, precisely because dew is automatic. Indeed, Rambam writes as follows:

Hilchot Tefilah 10:8

ואם לא הזכיר טל אין מחזירין אותו שאין הטל נעצר ואין צריך בקשה

However, if he omits mention of dew [in the summer], he need not repeat his prayers, for dew is never held back, nor is there a need to request it. (Touger translation)

Why then do many communities recite a special prayer for dew on Passover? One possibility is that even though dew is never withheld, there are different types of dew. As the above Talmudic passage states there might be dew but it might not be "dew of blessing". Thus the point of the prayer may be to focus on getting "dew of blessing" rather than just general dew. Indeed, at the crescendo of the prayer we recite the following three lines:

לברכה ולא לקללה
לחיים ולא למות
לשובע ולא לרזון

For blessing and not for curse.
For life and not for death.
For plenty and not for scarcity. (Artscroll translation)

All three of these statements are not about simply getting dew, but about getting dew that is good for us.

Similarly, R. Abraham Gombiner may have alluded to this when he wrote:

Magen Avraham O.C. 114:4

ומ"מ טוב לאומרו שיהיה לברכה

And nevertheless it is good to say it so that it should be for blessing.

Similarly, R. Yechiel Michel Epstein explains that the reason that we include dew in the request for rain is so that it should be "dew of blessing":

Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 114:6

וזה שאומרים בשאלה ותן טל ומטר לברכה זהו אגב מטר דמבקשים שיהיה גם טל של ברכה דיש טל שאינה של ברכה [גמרא

And this that we say in the request, "and give dew and rain for blessing", this is on account of rain, that we are asking that [the dew] should also be dew of blessing, as there is dew that is not of blessing (Gemara).

Rabbeinu Nissim says something similar but slightly more elaborate:

Ran Taanit 1a in Rif pagination

לפיכך נראה לי דהכי קאמר טל ורוחות כיון שאין נעצרין לגמרי אע"פ שפוחתין ומוסיפין ואיכא נמי טל ברכה דמעצר כדאיתא בגמרא לא חייבו חכמים להזכיר דאין החיוב אלא במה שהוא נעצר לגמרי ואעפ"כ אם בא להזכיר כדי שיתוספו בזמן הראוי להם מזכיר

It therefore seems to me that this is what it means: dew and winds since they are not completely withheld – though they may be decreased or increased and there is also dew of blessing that is withheld as mentioned in the Talmud – the Sages did not require [us] to mention [them] since the obligation is only for that which is withheld completely. And even so, if one comes to mention [them] in order that they be increased in their proper time, he can mention [them].

According to this, the reason why we pray for dew may also be to get more dew, as it is only a minimal amount that is never withheld.

There is also the possibility that the prayer is to prevent bad dew. We find a similar idea in another Talmudic passage:

Menachot 62a

מוליך ומביא מעלה ומוריד [וכו׳]. אמר רבי חייא בר אבא אמר רבי יוחנן מוליך ומביא למי שהרוחות שלו מעלה ומוריד למי שהשמים והארץ שלו במערבא מתנו הכי אמר רב חמא בר עוקבא אמר רבי יוסי בר רבי חנינא מוליך ומביא כדי לעצור רוחות רעות מעלה ומוריד כדי לעצור טללים רעים אמר רבי יוסי בר רב אבין זאת אומרת שירי מצוה מעכבים את הפורענות דהא תנופה שירי מצוה היא ועוצרת רוחות רעות וטללים רעים

AND WAVES THEM FORWARD AND BACKWARD AND UPWARD AND DOWNWARD. R. Hiyya b. Abba said in the name of R. Johanan, FORWARD AND BACKWARD, that is to Him unto Whom the [four] directions belong; UPWARD AND DOWNWARD, that is to Him unto Whom heaven and earth belong. In the West it was taught as follows: R. Hama b. ‘Ukba said in the name of R. Jose b. R. Hanina, FORWARD AND BACKWARD, in order to keep off violent winds; UPWARD AND DOWNWARD, in order to keep off harmful dews.

R. Jose son of R. Abin said, This proves that even the dispensable rites of a precept [when performed] ward off punishment, for the rite of waving is dispensable in the precept and yet it keeps off violent winds and harmful dews. (Soncino translation)

Here the Talmud assumes that there is harmful dew that is worth being protected from, and also assumes that doing something non-essential can protect against it. Similarly, then, though there is no obligation to pray for dew it may still be worthwhile to pray that we be protected from bad dew.

  • This is fine, but why leave out Menachot 62a and parallels? – Double AA Apr 23 at 20:22
  • @DoubleAA Good point even though it's not specifically about prayer. Edited. – Alex Apr 23 at 20:53
  • That's better but I think there's still a historical step missing here. Tefillat Tal is recited in Ashkenaz not to request Tal but because that's what the Kalir wrote for Shmini Atzeret. He wrote it since in Israel requesting Tal was a real thing for something like you said. But no one in Ashkenaz requests Tal so really in Nusach Ashkenaz it's just there as a Piyut like all festivals and notable Shabbatot. – Double AA Apr 23 at 21:35
  • Winning answer @Alex. Thank you. – Avrohom Yitzchok Apr 24 at 18:11
  • Shut Radvaz 1311. – Double AA Aug 19 at 2:18
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One implication of the question is that if something is automatic, there should be no prayer regarding it. Another implication (possibly supported by the wording of the piyut by Kalir) is that Tefillas Tal is a request for dew.

Both implications are incorrect.

We say every day that Hashem is המחדש בכל יום תמיד מעשה בראשית (renews every day the operation of creation). That is that Hashem is worthy of praise because the world continues to function as it did yesterday and before. So we see that we praise Hashem for the automatic operation of “nature”. The same should apply for dew.

The mishna תענית א א refers to משיב הרוח ומוריד הגשם (the parallel statement to מוריד הטל) as גבורות גשמים - the power of Hashem to give rain and not as pointed out by Rebbi Eliezer לא אמרתי לשאול, אלא להזכיר in the mishnah to request rain. We just mention Hashem's power at the appropriate time.

So if dew were more automatic than rain that would not be a reason not to mention Hashem's power in enabling dew in creation at the appropriate time.

  • "We just mention Hashem's power at the appropriate time." That's too simplistic. The Gemara later on (4b i think) says we only mention powers as a prelude to a request (ריצוי שאלה) – Double AA Apr 23 at 12:40

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