Rake is Ruby’s equivalent of make(1). Martin fowler has just posted an excellent article, Using the Rake Build Language, which explores how it works, using his own site’s build file as a comparison. It also compares it to make and ant. I find it really nice how easily Ruby lets you build your own little Domain Specific Language. It doesn’t necessarily look much like Ruby, but that’s because Ruby really doesn’t have much syntax itself.
It’s worth remembering this introduction because if you play with Rails, then you get a Rakefile thrown in for free.