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 in green pastures; he leads me beside the restful waters, he restores my soul. Psalm 23
The most simple but powerful Psalm of comfort portrays God with the metaphor of shepherd and pastor, guiding us through life.
The rivers have lifted up, YHWH; the rivers have lifted up their roaring! Greater than the sound of many waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea, mighty on high is YHWH! Psalm 93
As the winter rains swell my local creek, I get a reminder of the power of God manifest in nature.
You send forth springs into the brooks, so they flow between the hills. They give water to the wild animals; wild asses quench their thirst. Beside them dwell the birds of heaven, singing from amidst the branches. Psalm 104
This Psalm, traditionally recited at the New Moon (Rosh Chodesh), paints a vivid panorama of nature, God’s creation.
Bring us back, YHWH, return our captivity like streams in the Negev desert. Psalm 126
This Psalm, sung before the Grace After Meals (Birkat HaMazon) on Shabbat, evokes the image of seasonal rains restoring desert wadis to represent the return of the Jewish people to our homeland, and our spiritual return each Shabbat.
Note: YHWH stands for the sacred Four Letter Name of God in Hebrew, and can be articulated as Adonai, Eternal, or Yah.
Psalms as Spiritual Practice:
Reading Psalms (Tehillim), the prayer-poems of our ancestors, in Hebrew or one’s native tongue, is a traditional Jewish spiritual practice. A book of the Psalms is a great spiritual resource. My Grandpa Sam’s Hebrew-English Psalter (Book of Psalms) from the Soncino edition, has long been my companion for prayer and meditation, although the translation is King James-ian. I keep a list of Psalms for different needs and moods pasted in back of my Psalter, similar to this one. You can also find a lot of fun and traditional Jewish material on the Psalms on this site. Psalms are beloved of many Christians as well as Jews and can be a vehicle for interfaith worship and dialogue.
For a heartfelt translation into modern English, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi bequeathed us the gift of Psalms in a Translation for Praying, available in a variety of print and digital formats, including some recorded by Reb Zalman himself.
Consider and Comment: Do you have a favorite Psalm,
or perhaps a Psalm song from Shabbat services?
Can you memorize it (or a phrase from it) it, so that you always carry it with you?
Featured image, top: The Jordan River, Israel, via Wikimedia Commons
Enjoy a song from the Psams, or return to the Gateway of Flowing Water.