The Sea

Ha-Yam • הים

Basking in the sun and gazing at the waves, swimming and floating in the salt water: a seaside retreat is a timeless way to promote calm and healing. On a spiritual level, the depth, power, and mystery of the ocean evoke our awe and open us to a state of wonder more readily than almost anywhere else on earth. Diving near a coral reef or visiting an aquarium, we see that beneath the surface of the sea are worlds upon worlds of eco-systems filled with myriads of amazing creatures.

By User:Quizimodo - Own work based on Image:Oceans.png and animated design inspired by Image:Continental models.gif., Public Domain,

Earth might be called the sea planet, since over 70% of our globe is covered with great oceans, which can really be described as one World Ocean. Seas are technically just parts of those oceans that are partly enclosed by land. Oceans and seas are vital to life on our planet: containing 97% of our water, half of our oxygen and absorbing much of the carbon dioxide from our atmosphere to slow down global warming. Over half the world’s people live in the coastal zone, and over 140 million tons of food from the ocean are part of the global diets. But pollution, over-fishing, and destruction of fragile habitats continue to threaten this cradle of our global life.


The Sea is an important part of Jewish tradition. According to the Torah, the formative experience of our nation was escape from slavery through the parting of the Red (or Reed) Sea, and seafaring made its way into biblical stories from Noah to Jonah.  In Israel, the big salt sea to the west is the Mediterranean, but Israel’s lakes are also called “seas,” from the freshwater “Sea” of Galilee (in Hebrew, Ha-Kineret, the harp-shaped lake), down the Jordan River to what we call in English the Dead Sea (known in Hebrew as Yam Ha-Melach the Salt Sea). Our Sages borrowed the Greek word “Okeanus” for Ocean. Spiritually, the Sea can be a symbol of birth or destruction, a place of depth, mystery, and power.


Dive into this Gateway of The Sea to explore the symbolism of oceans, seas, and lakes in our tradition and in our lives.



Winter at the Beach

Gazing at the waves is meditative and calming, especially when you have the beach to yourself on a crisp winter morning. read more…

As the Sands on the Shore

כִּֽי־בָרֵ֣ךְ אֲבָרֶכְךָ֗ וְהַרְבָּ֨ה אַרְבֶּ֤ה אֶֽת־זַרְעֲךָ֙ כְּכוֹכְבֵ֣י הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וְכַח֕וֹל אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־שְׂפַ֣ת הַיָּ֑ם

I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand upon the seashore.

–Genesis 22:17

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Voices of Many Waters by Nava Tehila Ensemble, Jerusalem

מִקֹּל֨וֹת ׀ מַ֤יִם רַבִּ֗ים אַדִּירִ֣ים מִשְׁבְּרֵי־יָ֑ם אַדִּ֖יר בַּמָּר֣וֹם יְהוָֽה׃

Above the thunder of the mighty waters, more majestic than the breakers of the sea,  majestic on high is YHWH.

-Psalms 93:4

From Nava Tehila, Jerusalem community for Jewish Renewal whose musical ensemble performs around the world.

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A blessing on seeing the Sea


It’s a Jewish spiritual practice to say a berachah, a blessing, when experiencing an awesome, beautiful, or startling sight (or sound like thunder, or delicious scent) in nature. When I suddenly get to that first view of the ocean, I always catch my breath at the grandeur and beauty of the sight. All of my senses are opened up by the vista, the crash of the waves, the fresh ocean air.

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As the Sea fills a Cave

Rabbi Joshua of Sachnin said in the name of Rabbi Levi, “To what should we compare the Tent of Meeting [that Moses set up in the desert]? To a cave on the seashore. When the tide rises and the sea floods the cave, the sea is not diminished. Thus the Tent of Meeting was filled with the Shechinah (the Divine Presence).”

ר’ יהושע דסכנין בשם ר’ לוי למה היה אוהל מועד דומה למערה שהיא נתונה על שפת הים ועלהים והציף המערה נתמלאת מן הים והים לא חסר כך אוהל מועד נתמלא מזיו השכינה

–MIdrash, Pesikta de-Rav Kahana, 1b

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Ocean Breathing

I learned “Ocean Breath” from a wonderful yoga teacher, Marcia (Me-esha) Albert, at the original Elat Chayyim retreat center in Accord New York (now incorporated into Isabella Freedman retreat center). Based on yogic foundations, this breathing technique takes a little practice, but I find that it can have a very calming effect. I think of it like a portable beach that I can carry around when I need to relax or re-energize.  read more…

Gallery: As Above, So Below

I am captivated by the reflections of sky in a lake,* especially when sky and water seem to merge. On a spiritual level, it reminds me that in each of our souls is a reflection of the divine, the tzelem Elohim. We can perceive the reflection of what is “above” most easily when our consciousness is calm and clear, a state nurtured by regular prayer, meditation, and spiritual practice.

Enjoy these lake reflections from Wellspring on Instagram. (Plus one from a friend who is a Pastor in California.) Sometimes it’s hard to tell water from sky! I suggested pausing to contemplate each picture for a few moments of “reflection.”

Learn how Torah can be like Coral.

*I’m including lakes in this Gateway of the Sea, because in biblical Hebrew a “sea” can also mean a freshwater lake.

Tikkun Olam: Saving Our Seas, Saving Us

"No Green, No Blue," Sylvia Earl, Oceanographer

Famed oceanographer Sylvia Earle explains that just a few decades ago, human beings imagined that the world’s oceans were so vast, there was no way that humanity could harm them. The ocean was seen as bottomless basket of resources for humanity, providing us with everything from fossil fuels to fish. read more…

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