What is Tal? Originally Published on April 19-20, 2019.

As a part of the Musaf service on the first day of Pesah, as we repeat the Amidah, we say a prayer for dew, Tefillat Tal.  At the end of Sukkot we pray for rain; at the beginning of Passover we pray for dew.  After Passover, anything more than dew might be harmful to our crops, which nevertheless need moisture to survive. 

Tefillat Tal is in the form of a poem (a piyyut), said to have been written in Palestine in the sixth or seventh century CE by Eleazar Kalir, one of the earliest Hebrew poets.  It is written as a reverse alphabetic acrostic - the first letter of each phrase is a letter of the aleph-bet, beginning at the end.

Hazzan Rob Menes has written much about Tal on his site HazzanMenes.info.  He writes that Tal has three main themes.  The first is the necessity for water and God’s role in the season’s change, marked also by Passover.  The second theme is the food and produce deriving from the water.  Again, we are focused on food and even the “bread of affliction” (matzah) on Passover, yet another tie.  And the third connection between Tal and Pesah is a messianic vision, Rob writes, the ultimate redeption, the time when Jerusalem is rebuilt and the dead are re-enlivened.  Rob cites the poem’s line “the fruit of the earth as proud and glorious” alluding literarily to Isaiah 4:2, “the day when the radiance of the Lord will lend beauty and fruit, and the splendor of the land will give dignity and majesty to the survivors of Israel,” among other allusions to Isaiah.  The rejuvenation of springtime relates to the rejuvenation of  humankind.

The prayer ends by praising God who causes “the wind to blow and the dew to fall,” and making three requests:  for a blessing, not for a curse; for life, not for death; and for abundance, not for famine.  (Tal is found on page 375 in Siddur Lev Shalem.)

In other words, we ask gently, and with the best intentions, for the soft dew to land upon the earth.