A defining part of the eighth day of Sukkot, typically known as Shemini Atzeret, is that we start saying the tefillah for rain: “Mashiv haruach u’morid hageshem,” meaning, “Who makes the wind blow and the rain fall.” We begin saying mashiv haruach during the second bracha of Mussaf, and we continue to say it during every single Shemoneh Esrei until Pesach.
When looking closely at this addition, the tefillah’s position in the Shemoneh Esrei seems strange. Why during “atah gibbor” — a bracha that starts by praising Hashem for being “eternally mighty” for doing things such as reviving the dead, and possessing “great powers to save” does it then bring up rainfall and wind? After all, when sandwiched between miracles like reviving the dead and healing the sick, doesn’t mashiv haruach seem pretty lousy and insignificant in comparison?
To answer this question, I’d like to point out one significant similarity between the placement of mashiv haruach and the placement of Shemini Atzeret itself.
Following the awe-inspiring yamim nora’im, high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and preceding Simchat Torah, the holiday in which we restart the entire Torah reading cycle, Shemini Atzeret can also appear pretty lousy and insignificant. What is so special about Shemini Atzeret? All we do is start praying for rain.
The answer lies within the grammar of the word atzeret, typically translated as “assembly.” But, if we take a closer look, the shoresh (root) of the word Atzeret (or עצרת) is ע.צ.ר.,meaning to stop or pause. Shemini Atzeret is a time for us to take a pause in our busy lives filled with homework, sports, clubs, and college applications. It is a time for us to think back to the meaningful holidays that provided us with opportunities to be closer to Hashem, to reflect on all that Hashem has given us throughout the past year, and to be present and experience the holiday of Shemini Atzeret that doesn’t always get as much recognition as its more famous relatives. In the case of mashiv haruach, we are given a chance to take a moment and pause between the mentions of Hashem’s incredible divinity. We can reflect on the great power that Hashem possesses, and realize that even causing rain to fall and wind to blow is a miracle in and of itself.