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

Choose your favorite Pathway, or follow them in order:

Flowing Water in Hassidic and Mystical Thought

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

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

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

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

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: 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...