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.
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.”
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
Choose your favorite Pathway, or follow them in order:
Featured photo by JHD, Mill Creek, California View a Gallery of Flowing Water images, or return to the Gateway of Flowing Water
Flowing creeks in Northern California, photos by Julie Hilton Danan
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...
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...
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...
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...