In Hassidic and mystical thought, a river can be a symbol of the Shefa שֶפַע the abundance or flow from God to humanity. There is a sense that if we can serve properly and pray with true intention, we will open the faucet, as it were, to receive the divine flow into the world. Another way to see it is that the flow is always there, but through prayer and meditation we will become more conscious and appreciative of it.
Rabbi Avraham Weinberg of Slonim wrote about this spiritual flow in his book Birkat Avraham. Inspired by a passage in the book of Numbers that describes the “Nachalim” the Wadis or creek beds that the Israelites came across in their desert wanderings, the Rebbe explained that there is an “upper stream” from God that is aroused by the “lower stream” of our prayers to flow with love, joy, blessing, and goodness into our lives and consciousness. The word for stream, Nachal נַחַל, he explained, stands for the Hebrew phrase, Notser chesed la-alaphim, meaning God creates kindness for thousands (of generations) (Exodus 34:7). (I studied Birkat Avraham with Rabbi Jonathan Slater through an online program of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality.)
The Sod (mystical) level of Rivers can be explored in the book:The River of Light: Spirituality, Judaism, Consciousness, by Lawrence Kushner (Jewish Lights). In this marvelous and deep extended meditation, Rabbi Kushner explores the nature of consciousness–the river of light that pervades the cosmos–as perceived in Midrashic myth, theology, and scientific inquiry.
“In Jewish mysticism, the river is a metaphor for the Holy Oneness that unifies all creation. Just imagine it: a sacred stream, luminous and ubiquitous, a river of light.”
-Rabbi Lawrence Kushner
Featured Image: Swimmers at Bear Hole in Upper Bidwell Park, Chico, California, JHD