Flowing Water

Flowing Water

Flowing Water (Mayim Zormim)

מים זורמים

Going With the Flow

From the Sabinal River at my childhood ranch in the Texas Hill Country, to the creek at the former Elat Chayyim Retreat Center in Upstate New York, to Big Chico Creek two blocks from my house in California, flowing water has always been integral to my spiritual and emotional life.

And so it has to much of humanity. Rivers are the arteries of the world, providing vital water and habitat for fish, birds, animals, and humans.

Great rivers have shaped civilizations and are considered sacred to many cultures. Our earliest ancestors, Abraham and Sarah hailed from the Fertile Crescent land of the Tigris and Euphrates.

Israelite consciousness was forged by Egypt’s Nile, whose annual flooding brought food to the masses along the Nile Delta, where baby Moses was saved in a basket hidden among the bulrushes.

Crossing the modest Jordan River (Joshua 3), our ancestors arrived in the Land of Israel, known primarily as a land of creeks and wadis that flow in the rainy season, a “land of brooks of water,” (Deuteronomy 8:7). The biblical word for a continually flowing, large river is Nahar נָהָר, while a seasonal brook/wadi or just a small stream is called a Nachal נַחַל. Rabbi Herbert Weiner suggested that the yearning for rain to fill the rivers of Israel drew our ancestors’ gaze heavenward and influenced our spiritual people’s development.

Rivers and creeks are often seen as symbols of time and life, always flowing and ever changing. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “No one ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same person.”

Psychologists, artists, and athletes speak of being in a state of “flow,” or heightened creativity and focus achieved through mindfulness.

Float down this Gateway of Flowing Water to explore the symbolism of rivers, streams, and creeks in Jewish tradition and in your own life.

Background Photo: Nile River and Nile Delta from Space (NASA), via Wikimedia Commons

Start On Your Journey

The first option below is the suggested next step on your journey.  Feel free to browse the following paths and explore in your own time at your own pace.

Ambiance: Sitting by a running stream

Featured photo by JHD, Mill Creek, California View a Gallery of Flowing Water images, or return to the Gateway of Flowing Water

Gallery of Flowing Water

Flowing creeks in Northern California, photos by Julie Hilton Danan  

Torah Study: Named by the Rivers

Flowing water can be considered as a metaphor for change as it runs continually down the riverbed. It can also be considered as a metaphor for change in terms of making a crossing. In fact, the Jewish people gained two of our names from crossing rivers. Our first...

Flowing Water in the Psalms

The Psalms (Tehillim) of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) are replete with imagery from nature, including beautiful and poignant references to flowing water, both calm and stormy. Here are a few: A Psalm of David: YHWH is my shepherd; I shall not lack. He makes me lie down...

Flowing Song

This song by Rabbi David Shneyer is from his album "Psalm Songs from Rock Creek," a title which evokes both Psalms and flowing water. This lively melody reminds me of a rapid, rushing brook. The lyrics, from the Jewish liturgy, ask God to answer our prayers and to "Do...

Water wears down stone

How did Rabbi Akiva get started? They said at age 40 he had not even begun to study. Once he was standing at the mouth of the well and said, "Who carved this stone?" They said, "The water that drips constantly every day," and they also said to him, "Akiva, haven't you...

Flowing Water in Hassidic and Mystical Thought

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...

Wading as a Spiritual Practice

One of my favorite meditations in summer is to put on a pair of immersible sport sandals and go wading. It forces me to slow down and be in the moment, connecting with nature in multiple senses Take a wading meditation with me. . . Feel the cool, cool water on your...

A Guide’s Perspective: Life is But a Stream

    Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden Flowing water has always been a part of my...

Being in the Flow

 Psychologists have explored the concept of being in a State of Flow, when we essentially become one with our actions. I sometimes feel that the Shefa, שֶפַע the divine abundance of life is flowing freely, while at other times I feel that I am swimming against the...

Reb Zalman Teaches About the Flow of Life

My teacher, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi taught that the concept of free will can be compared to a river. Life is seldom smooth as Lake Placid, and not usually like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, but it is often more like shooting the rapids. We don't get to...

Tashlich: Can water carry away our mistakes?

Tashlich is a Jewish New Year's custom that originated in the Middle Ages and is traditionally done on the first day of Rosh Hashanah (on the second day if the first day is on Shabbat). We to go to the banks of a stream or other natural body of water, and symbolically...

A Poem

From TODAY IS FOREVER I stroll often in a nearby park — old trees wildly overgrown, bushes and flowers blooming all four seasons, a creek babbling childishly over pebbles, a small bridge with rough-hewn railings– this is my little park. It’s mild and gentle in the...

Video: Moments of Eternity in the Passing Flow of Life

  Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are...

Personal Creative Ritual: Tashlich for Letting Go

My situation had no ritual, and that nearly sent me into despair. As a rabbi, I lead rituals to help people deal with change and loss. Joyful yet sometimes stressful occasions like weddings, brit ceremonies, b'nei mitzvah.  Sad passages like funerals, shivah and even...

Yield to the Moment and the Moment Yields to You

Rabbi Avin the Levite said: All who try to force the moment (literally, "the hour") the moment forces them, and all who yield to the moment, the moment yields to them.        כל הדוחק את השעה שעה דוחקתו וכל הנדחה מפני השעה שעה נדחת מפניו Talmud Berakhot 64a   I'm...

Water Rocks: A Poem by a Pastor Friend

“Water rocks!” –for Standing Rock Sioux and all sacred life (Micah 6:8) Bucketing, barreling long-awaited runoff.  Delighted, barefoot, and cold I imagine myself a Rwandan girl except I have not missed school; I am not without choice. But water is essential too for...

Tikkun Olam: River Activism

When it comes to water, air, and climate, there really are no national borders. Learn about some great Tikkun Olam organizations that focus on Rivers in the US, Mideast and Worldwide. Riparian Zones are the ecosystems on the banks of rivers, creeks, and streams. They...

Sharing Circle: Flowing Water

Join the Sharing Circle of Flowing Water to explore any of the themes in this Gateway. How do you achieve a sense of flow? Is it something you do consciously? What activity in your life gives you the greatest sense of being in the flow? I would also love to hear about...

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