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
Our Sages were wondering how a tent or a temple could contain God. Their answer was that God is everywhere always . . . and can also be sensed in a particular way, in a particular place. The whole is in the part and the part is in the whole.
On another level, their analogy of the Sea and the Cave encompasses two different perceptions of God: as the transcendent and the immanent. Like the vast sea contained in the cave, God is both the Transcendent One–far beyond our conceptions of space and time–and the Immanent One, the wholly present, holy presence that we can feel inside, in relationships, and in nature: the Shechinah.
And indeed, every drop of sea water in the cave and in the ocean contains the essence of the Sea in miniature. From the mystic’s point of view, you and I are mere drops in the vast ocean of existence…but if we awaken to our true nature, the Source of our life and consciousness, we will know that while we may be a small drop, our essence is Ocean.
You don’t have to be a mystic or even a traditionally religious person to find a deep sense of connection to the Whole. Many who identify as secular find their spiritual connection in nature, perhaps in the sea. (Not that faith and science should be at odds for modern people, as you can explore with Sinai and Synapses.) I was very moved by an essay by a secular climate activist who left her Evangelical Christian religious faith behind, but still seeks and finds a transcendent connection to the whole of creation when she swims in the Great Lakes or the ocean.
“Floating until my skin was pruned, I felt my insignificance in the world next to the scale of the great lake and its long beaches, but at the same time, my absolute physical connection to every molecule of it. Without knowing it, I was feeling out a new bridge between my life and the universe. . .
To stay awake, active, useful is a matter of feeling as much as knowing. You have to trust that your individual life is linked to something bigger: that you belong, body and soul, to a larger story for which you are responsible. In this, those of us who believe the science might take a lesson from the faithful. And the rhetoric that would pit faith against reason ignores the millions–all of us, perhaps–who live on both.
To swim in the ocean now is to swim into the future and know that we have made it.”
–Kristin Dombek, “Swimming Against the Rising Tide” (New York Times Opinion, August 9, 2014)
Find your awe through a microscope, a telescope, a Torah discussion, a dip in the sea. Find your connection through meditation, through prayer with community, through a hike or a spiritual retreat in nature. No matter how you do it, it’s vital to all of us and to our planetary home to do it regularly. Feeling connected to the whole, we feel our responsibility to do our small part for the good of the whole.
The sea is in the cave and the cave is in the sea. The drop is in the ocean and the ocean in the drop. All are connected. Just keep reminding yourself in every way that you can.
Featured Image: Sea Cave at Rosh HaNikra, northern Israel, by Maria Naiman.