1) AGADAH: RAIN -- THE HUSBAND OF THE EARTH
The Gemara says that the first rain of the season is called "Revi'ah" because it impregnates (Rove'a) the land, as reflected in the expression, "Rain is the husband of the earth." This metaphor has a number of profound implications.
(a) The Gemara earlier (2a) lists the three "keys" which Hash-m holds and does not give to any Shali'ach: the key to rain, the key to childbirth, and the key to Techiyas ha'Mesim. When the Gemara here says that "rain is the husband of the earth," it means that rain is the key to all of the unique elements mentioned in the Gemara earlier which are not in the hands of any Shali'ach. In addition to being the source of Parnasah (sustenance) for the world, rain brings forth life (just as a husband and a wife bring forth life, and as the metaphor of the Gemara here implies).
Rainfall is also compared to Techiyas ha'Mesim (7a). The power of rain to "resurrect the dead" is evident in two ways. In a practical sense, a poor person is like a dead person (Nedarim 64b), whom rain brings back to life when it causes his produce to grow (Rashi to 7a). Moreover, the verse in Tehilim (68:10) says that Hash-m brings the dead to life with a rainfall.
As such, it is appropriate to call rain "Gevuros Geshamim" in the plural form ("Gevuros" instead of "Gevuras"), because rain includes elements of all of the acts which demonstrate the power of Hash-m.
(b) The VILNA GA'ON (Peninim mi'Shulchan ha'Gra, Parshas Shemini) explains that there are two ways in which Hash-m makes the earth "give birth." One is through rain: when the rain falls it impregnates the earth, so to speak, by causing the earth to bear its produce. The other way in which Hash-m makes the earth give birth is through Techiyas ha'Mesim, as the verse says that the people who will come to life will "sprout from the city like the grass of the land" (Tehilim 72:16). In both cases, the rain comes first and then the earth gives birth. In the present world, Hash-m expresses His mercy by sending the rain which causes the produce to grow. At the time of Techiyas ha'Mesim, Hash-m will express His mercy by reviving the dead through rain. In a sense, sustenance is "born" from the rain above, while Techiyas ha'Mesim comes from the earth below.
These two types of "birth" represent Ge'ulah in this world and the Ge'ulah of the World to Come. TOSFOS in Pesachim (116b) quotes the Midrash that says that when we experience a Ge'ulah (salvation) in this world, we praise Hash-m with a "Shirah Chadashah," a "new song," in the feminine form. In the future, when the complete and final Ge'ulah will occur, we will praise Hash-m with a "Shir Chadash," in the masculine form. The Gemara in Berachos (60a) says that when the man is aroused first, the child born of the union is a girl, and when the woman is aroused first, the child born of the union is a boy. In this world, the rains, which represent the male contribution to the earth's productivity, come first. Since the birth begins with the "husband" of the earth, the resultant Ge'ulah is that of a feminine attribute, and thus we sing a "Shirah Chadashah." In the future, when Hash-m will cause the earth to be aroused first and to give life to those buried within it, the resultant Ge'ulah will have a masculine attribute, and thus we will sing a "Shir Chadash."
(c) The Vilna Ga'on points out that one of the impure birds listed in Parshas Shemini is the "Racham" (Vayikra 11:18). In Parshas Re'eh, however, the same bird is called the "Rachamah" (Devarim 14:17). The Vilna Ga'on explains why it has two names.
The Gemara in Chulin (63a) says that it is called "Racham" because it knows when "Rachamim," mercy, is coming to the world (i.e. when Hash-m is going to send rain). When the bird perches on top of something and shrieks, that is a sign that there will be rain. The Gemara says that there is a tradition that if the bird would perch itself on the ground and shriek, that would be a sign that Mashi'ach's arrivcal is imminent.
The Vilna Ga'on says that the Racham's shriek alludes to a birth that will take place. (Birth is accompanied by shrieks, and the name "Racham" is related to the word "Rechem," womb.) There are two types of births to which the Racham alludes: when the bird is perched upon something above the ground, it is a sign of a birth that will start from above -- from the rain. When the bird is perched upon the ground, it is a sign of a birth that will start from the earth -- the coming of Mashi'ach and Techiyas ha'Mesim.
When the bird gives a sign that rain will fall, it is called "Racham," in the masculine form without the letter "Heh," which indicates that the impending Ge'ulah will be originated by the "male," referring to the rain, the husband of the earth. The Gematriya of "Racham" is 248, which is the number of limbs in the body of the human male (Ohalos 1:7). In contrast, when the bird sits on the ground and shrieks, it is called "Rachamah," in the feminine form with the letter "Heh," which indicates that the earth, the feminine aspect, is being aroused first to bring forth Techiyas ha'Mesim. The Gematriya of "Rachamah" is 253, which is the number of limbs in the female body, which has five more parts than the male body (Bechoros 45a, according to Rebbi Akiva).
2) BLESSING THE "HODA'OS"
OPINIONS: The Gemara says that when the rains come, we recite a prayer in which we thank Hash-m for every single drop of rain. Rebbi Yochanan maintains that at the end of the prayer we say, "Baruch Rov ha'Hoda'os." The Gemara asks that this praise seems derogatory because it implies that Hash-m deserves only "Rov ha'Hoda'os" -- most praises of gratitude but not all of them. Rava answers that we say instead, "Baruch Kel ha'Hoda'os" -- "Blessed is the G-d [who is deserving of all] of the praises of thanksgiving." Rav Papa concludes that "therefore, we say both, 'Baruch Kel ha'Hoda'os v'Rov ha'Hoda'os'" (see following Insight).
What is the meaning of the words, "Baruch Rov ha'Hoda'os"? Their literal translation is, "Blessed are most thanksgivings," which has no meaning.
(a) RASHI explains that "Baruch Rov ha'Hoda'os" means the same thing as "Baruch b'Rov ha'Hoda'os" -- "[Hash-m is] Blessed with many praises of thanksgiving."
(b) The RAMBAM (Hilchos Berachos 10:5) has a different text of the Gemara. In the Rambam's text, Rav Papa does not rule that we should say, "Baruch Kel ha'Hoda'os v'Rov ha'Hoda'os." Rather, Rav Papa rules that we should say, "Baruch Kel Rov ha'Hoda'os." "Rov ha'Hoda'os" is an adjective which describes "Kel," Hash-m, Who is the G-d of many thanksgivings.
What does Rebbi Yochanan's original suggestion of "Baruch Rov ha'Hoda'os" mean? The RAMBAN (Milchamos, Berachos 59b) explains that "Rov ha'Hoda'os" can be understood as a descriptive statement about Hash-m even without the word "Kel" before it, as in the phrase, "Rov Onim v'Amitz Ko'ach" (Yeshayah 40:26). It means, "Blessed is Hash-m, the One [worthy] of many blessings."
3) RAV PAPA'S COMPROMISE
QUESTION: The Gemara says that when the rains come, we recite a prayer in which we thank Hash-m for every single drop of rain. Rebbi Yochanan maintains that at the end of the prayer we say, "Baruch Rov ha'Hoda'os." The Gemara asks that this praise seems derogatory because it implies that Hash-m deserves only "Rov ha'Hoda'os" -- most praises of gratitude but not all of them. Rava answers that we say instead, "Baruch Kel ha'Hoda'os" -- "Blessed is the G-d [who is deserving of all] of the praises of thanksgiving." Rav Papa concludes that "therefore, we say both, 'Baruch Kel ha'Hoda'os v'Rov ha'Hoda'os'" (see previous Insight).
Why does Rav Papa rule that we say both phrases if the Gemara just explained that it is improper to say "Rov ha'Hoda'os"?
(a) RASHI and the RAMBAN (Milchamos, Berachos 59b) explain that when the phrase "Rov ha'Hoda'os" accompanies the phrase "Kel ha'Hoda'os," it has the connotation of "many" and is not derogatory. Without the phrase "Kel," the connotation is "most" Hoda'os, which implies that He is not deserving of all praises. Since "Kel ha'Hoda'os" already implies that Hash-m is deserving of all blessings ("Kel" means the all-powerful G-d), it is clear that the following phrase, "Rov ha'Hoda'os," has the same meaning. (This is particularly evident according to the Rambam (Hilchos Berachos 10:5; see previous Insight) who maintains that the two phrases are combined into a single statement, "Baruch Kel Rov ha'Hoda'os," and "Rov ha'Hoda'os" is understood to be an adjective when said together with "Kel ha'Hoda'os.")
The Ramban adds that the reason why we mention "Rov ha'Hoda'os" and praise Hash-m as the G-d of many praises of thanksgiving is because we thank Hash-m for each and every drop of rain (as the prayer begins). We mention the "many" praises of thanksgiving that He deserves for the many droplets of rain.
(b) The BA'AL HA'ME'OR (Berachos 59b) has a different text of the Gemara. His text does not say that we recite both "Kel ha'Hoda'os" and "Rov ha'Hoda'os." Rather, when Rav Papa says that "therefore, we recite both," he refers to the two prayers of "Modim Anachnu Lach" and "Ilu Finu Malei Shirah."