We are water

By Rabbi Greg Alexander

As I write this, it is raining on camp. Summer camp – machaneh. 

Rain is a blessing, unless you are planning to head to the beach. Never pray for it not to rain. I did that in Winter 2017 when we had a leak in our roof — it stopped raining in Cape Town for two years and we nearly had Day Zero in 2018. I am not saying that I caused the drought, just that you should never curse the rain.

So, as I watch the rain, it gets me thinking of water. Firstly about waves on the beach — how the waves roll in and the waves roll out and the ocean is the same. It’s like our relationship with G@d. As the 20th Century theologian, Richard Rubenstein said: “G!d is the ocean, and we are the waves. In some sense each wave has its moment in which it is distinguishable as a somewhat separate entity. Nevertheless, no wave is entirely distinct from the ocean… The waves are surface manifestations of the ocean.” Morality and Eros, New York: McGraw Hill, 1970, 186-7.

I also thought about how rain is a closed cycle — water falls, it sits for a while and then it rises with evaporation. Then it falls again. It’s the same water cycling around. And has been for thousands or millions of years. In a recently published research article, scientists Cecilia Ceccarelli and Fujun Du show that the water we drink is roughly 4.5-billion-years-old! Wow, what a mindbend! 

So the rain that is falling today, and the ocean waves, and the water you drink is actually the same water that our ancestors Abraham and Sarah drank in the land of Canaan. It’s the same water that Rivkah gave to Abraham’s servant and his camels at the well. And that flowed in the Jabok river next to which Jacob camped when he wrestled with the angel. And that parted for the Israelites to walk to freedom. And that Miriam made manifest in the wilderness for 40 years to water the tribes. And it’s the same water that our ancestors sailed on from Lithuania and England and Germany and Rhodos to get to South Africa. 

It is literally Mayim Chaim, living water. There are different words used in the Torah for different rain, showing just how much our ancestors observed rain and depended on it for their very lives. You didn’t want too little or too much and you didn’t want it at the wrong time. There is yoreh (the early rains) and malkosh (later rains). There is geshem and matar and tal (dew). When they were slaves in Egypt they got water everyday from the Nile. When they were wandering for 40 years in the desert they got water miraculously on tap from Miriam’s well. But when they entered the Promised Land they became farmers of the land and needed the rain to grow their crops.  

And then it got me thinking that we are water too. Most of our bodies are made up of water — it depends who you ask and what part of the body you are talking about, but it seems that around 60% of our bodies are actually water. Not that you hear it sloshing around while you walk downstairs, because it’s found in the cells that make up our body parts. Our brain is about 70% water. Our lungs are about 90% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%. That’s a lot of water. We are water. It’s no wonder that the mikveh, the pool of living water, was our primary tool for marking transitions (birth and healing, before a wedding, becoming Jewish). 

The water in our bodies connects us to each other and to our ancestors and to the future generations that will sit here after us. And we, right now, right here, have the responsibility to bless it, to be grateful for it and to look after it. Not to waste it. Not to pollute it. To use it sparingly and with conscious appreciation for its connections to present, past and future.

As you read this, know that the first shabbat in February is Shabbat Shira — the Shabbat of Song — when the waters parted for the Israelites and they responded in song. And soon after that is Tu Bishvat, the festival of trees, which connect us once again to the cycle of water and nature. Let us take this time to reflect on our connection to water and to each other, to be guardians of, and appreciators of the ancient and sacred rivers that flow in us. 

Temple Israel www.templeisrael.co.za

• Published in the February 2023 Digital Edition – Click here to read it.

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