Cellist and humanitarian Yo-Yo Ma speaks about the “edge,” the natural or cultural place where environments intersect, as one that always has more life forms and new life forms. Bach taught him to balance going to his center and to the edge. In cultural...
The Sea (Ha-Yam)
Basking in the sun and gazing at the waves, swimming and floating in the salt water: a seaside retreat is a timeless way to promote calm and healing. On a spiritual level, the depth, power, and mystery of the ocean evoke our awe and open us to a state of wonder more readily than almost anywhere else on earth. Diving near a coral reef or visiting an aquarium, we see that beneath the surface of the sea are worlds upon worlds of eco-systems filled with myriads of amazing creatures.
Earth might be called the sea planet, since over 70% of our globe is covered with great oceans, which can really be described as one World Ocean. Seas are technically just parts of those oceans that are partly enclosed by land. Oceans and seas are vital to life on our planet: containing 97% of our water, half of our oxygen and absorbing much of the carbon dioxide from our atmosphere to slow down global warming. Over half the world’s people live in the coastal zone, and over 140 million tons of food from the ocean are part of the global diets. But pollution, over-fishing, and destruction of fragile habitats continue to threaten this cradle of our global life.
The Sea is an important part of Jewish tradition. According to the Torah, the formative experience of our nation was escape from slavery through the parting of the Red (or Reed) Sea, and seafaring made its way into biblical stories from Noah to Jonah. In Israel, the big salt sea to the west is the Mediterranean, but Israel’s lakes are also called “seas,” from the freshwater “Sea” of Galilee (in Hebrew, Ha-Kineret, the harp-shaped lake), down the Jordan River to what we call in English the Dead Sea (known in Hebrew as Yam Ha-Melach the Salt Sea). Our Sages borrowed the Greek word “Okeanus” for Ocean. Spiritually, the Sea can be a symbol of birth or destruction, a place of depth, mystery, and power.
Dive into this Gateway of The Sea to explore the symbolism of oceans, seas, and lakes in our tradition and in our lives.
Choose your favorite Pathway, or follow them in order:
Gazing at the waves is meditative and calming, especially when you have the beach to yourself on a crisp winter morning. Beach at Cape May South Meadows, New Jersey (The Nature Conservancy), Video by JHD, January, 2017
The great German Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig said that we relate to and experience God in three ways: Creation, Revelation, and Redemption. The Hebrew Bible (Tanakh)'s depictions of the Sea encompass all three themes, and add one that he left out: destruction....
כִּֽי־בָרֵ֣ךְ אֲבָרֶכְךָ֗ וְהַרְבָּ֨ה אַרְבֶּ֤ה אֶֽת־זַרְעֲךָ֙ כְּכוֹכְבֵ֣י הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וְכַח֕וֹל אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־שְׂפַ֣ת הַיָּ֑ם I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand upon the seashore. --Genesis 22:17 The...
מִקֹּל֨וֹת ׀ מַ֤יִם רַבִּ֗ים אַדִּירִ֣ים מִשְׁבְּרֵי־יָ֑ם אַדִּ֖יר בַּמָּר֣וֹם יְהוָֽה׃ Above the thunder of the mighty waters, more majestic than the breakers of the sea, majestic on high is YHWH. -Psalms 93:4 From Nava Tehila, Jerusalem community for Jewish Renewal...
The Mediterranean Sea in Spring, Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael and Habonim-Dor Nature Reserve, by Daphna Rosenberg. Learn a blessing on seeing the sea, or return to the Gateway of The Sea.