The Sea

The Sea

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.

Start On Your Journey

The first option below is the suggested next step on your journey.  Feel free to browse the following paths and explore in your own time at your own pace.

Gallery of the Seashore in Israel

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...

Winter at the Beach

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 Sea in the Bible

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....

As the Sands on the Shore

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...

Voices of Many Waters by Nava Tehila Ensemble, Jerusalem

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...

Gallery: Mediterranean Sea in Israel in Spring

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.

A blessing on seeing the Sea

  It's a Jewish spiritual practice to say a berachah, a blessing, when experiencing an awesome, beautiful, or startling sight (or sound like thunder, or delicious scent) in nature. When I suddenly get to that first view of the ocean, I always catch my breath at...

As the Sea fills a Cave

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...

Moroccan Jewish “Song at the Sea”

The Song at the Sea, Shirat Ha-Yam, Exodus 15, with a classic Moroccan-Jewish Melody. Performed by Rabbi Hillel Hayyim Lavery-Yisraeli. Learn more here. Learn about the Parting of the Red Sea, or return to the Gateway of the Sea.

Splitting the Sea with Wind

Picture the splitting of the Reed (or Red) Sea. Based on the movie versions, we tend to visualize Moses raising his staff, so that the waters part instantly—supernatural special effects! But the Torah (Exodus 14:21), offers a more naturalistic depiction of the...

Two Seas: Giving and Receiving

There is an old parable about two seas in Israel, one fresh and one very salty. One, the Sea of Galilee, in Hebrew is called Yam Kinneret  יָם כִּנֶּרֶת‎ in Hebrew, because it is shaped like a harp, kinor. This freshwater lake teams with fish and is ringed by rich...

Ocean Breathing

I learned "Ocean Breath" from a wonderful yoga teacher, Marcia (Me-esha) Albert, at the original Elat Chayyim retreat center in Accord New York (now incorporated into Isabella Freedman retreat center). Based on yogic foundations, this breathing technique takes a...

Gallery: As Above, So Below

I am captivated by the reflections of sky in a lake,* especially when sky and water seem to merge. On a spiritual level, it reminds me that in each of our souls is a reflection of the divine, the tzelem Elohim. We can perceive the reflection of what is "above" most...

Torah as Coral, Coral as Torah

We have heard the expression "Sea of Torah." But how about Torah as coral? Part One: Torah As Moses came down the mountain with the Ten Commandments carved on two stone tablets, he found the people worshiping a golden calf. As recounted in Exodus 32:19, Moses threw...

Tikkun Olam: Saving Our Seas, Saving Us

Famed oceanographer Sylvia Earle explains that just a few decades ago, human beings imagined that the world's oceans were so vast, there was no way that humanity could harm them. The ocean was seen as bottomless basket of resources for humanity, providing us with...

Refugees at Sea: Can we help their waters part?

Our Jewish redemption story centers on a rescue at sea. The parting of the Red (or Reed) Sea as described in the book of Exodus is the paradigm our own people's redemption from ancient slavery and oppression, remembered in our prayers and holiday observances...

Sharing Circle: The Sea

What is the meaning of The Sea in your life? Do you live near a sea, ocean, or lake, or visit often? Which one(s)? Do you go there for healing, spirituality, adventure? Have you ever lived through a flood or other natural disaster (or helped to rebuild) and what was...

Flowing Water

Flowing Water

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

Start On Your Journey

The first option below is the suggested next step on your journey.  Feel free to browse the following paths and explore in your own time at your own pace.

Ambiance: Sitting by a running stream

Featured photo by JHD, Mill Creek, California View a Gallery of Flowing Water images, or return to the Gateway of Flowing Water

Gallery of Flowing Water

Flowing creeks in Northern California, photos by Julie Hilton Danan  

Torah Study: Named by the Rivers

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...

Flowing Water in the Psalms

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...

Flowing Song

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...

Water wears down stone

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...

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

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

    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

 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

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 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...

A Poem

From TODAY IS FOREVER I stroll often in a nearby park — old trees wildly overgrown, bushes and flowers blooming all four seasons, a creek babbling childishly over pebbles, a small bridge with rough-hewn railings– this is my little park. It’s mild and gentle in the...

Video: Moments of Eternity in the Passing Flow of Life

  Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are...

Personal Creative Ritual: Tashlich for Letting Go

My situation had no ritual, and that nearly sent me into despair. As a rabbi, I lead rituals to help people deal with change and loss. Joyful yet sometimes stressful occasions like weddings, brit ceremonies, b'nei mitzvah.  Sad passages like funerals, shivah and even...

Yield to the Moment and the Moment Yields to You

Rabbi Avin the Levite said: All who try to force the moment (literally, "the hour") the moment forces them, and all who yield to the moment, the moment yields to them.        כל הדוחק את השעה שעה דוחקתו וכל הנדחה מפני השעה שעה נדחת מפניו Talmud Berakhot 64a   I'm...

Water Rocks: A Poem by a Pastor Friend

“Water rocks!” –for Standing Rock Sioux and all sacred life (Micah 6:8) Bucketing, barreling long-awaited runoff.  Delighted, barefoot, and cold I imagine myself a Rwandan girl except I have not missed school; I am not without choice. But water is essential too for...

Tikkun Olam: River Activism

When it comes to water, air, and climate, there really are no national borders. Learn about some great Tikkun Olam organizations that focus on Rivers in the US, Mideast and Worldwide. Riparian Zones are the ecosystems on the banks of rivers, creeks, and streams. They...

Sharing Circle: Flowing Water

Join the Sharing Circle of Flowing Water to explore any of the themes in this Gateway. How do you achieve a sense of flow? Is it something you do consciously? What activity in your life gives you the greatest sense of being in the flow? I would also love to hear about...

Water From Underground

Water From Underground

Water From Underground (Maya’anot)

מעיינות

Soaking in water is a welcome activity at many retreats. I remember the day before my rabbinic ordination at Elat Chayyim Retreat Center (now part of Isabella Freedman Retreat Center), doing a mikveh (ritual immersion) in a chilly spring-fed creek at a secluded spot in the woods, then moving on to warm up in the the retreat center’s wooden hot tub. It was a spiritual immersion–water symbolic of Torah and life–while simultaneously a very physical, healing experience.

Underground water can also represent our hidden imagination, dreams, and the unconscious mind underneath the surface of life. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi has described Aggadah, the lore/legends/symbols of our people, in terms of a vast “aquifer,” an underground source of living waters that enlivens our civilization. Without drawing on these sources, we feel spiritually dehydrated. “Filling our own well” has become a metaphor for the kind of nourishment that we need in order to live our fullest lives and to serve others with a full heart.

For the Eternal Your God brings you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills. (Deuteronomy 8:7)

Immerse in this Gateway of Water Under Ground to explore the symbolism of wells and springs in Jewish tradition and in your own life.

Start On Your Journey

The first option below is the suggested next step on your journey.  Feel free to browse the following paths and explore in your own time at your own pace.

Sound Track: Creek in an Australian Underground Cave

Featured Image via beautiful-views.net Learn about wellsprings and visions in the Torah, or return to the Gateway of Water From Underground.

Wellsprings and Visions

The Hebrew word for "well," Be'er, באר can be read, "to elucidate, make clear." The Hebrew word for "spring," Ma'ayan, is related to the words for "eye" and "looking" (ayin, ayen, עין). Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, speaks to an angel at Ein Hamayim (spring or "eye"...

Keeping a Spiritual Journal

Almost everyone has spiritual experiences, but often they fade with time unless we have a vessel to contain them. A journal can be one such vessel. I think that the hands-on experience of journaling in one's own handwriting can itself be a spiritual practice. If you...

Torah Study: Well as Meeting Place

Wells play an important role in the Torah. Abraham and his son Isaac measure wealth in terms of the many wells they have dug (Genesis 26:12-22). The Torah has a number of stories about matches being made at a village well. That makes sense since the job of drawing...

A Midrash: Wellsprings as Source of Divine Inspiration

The Midrash takes the biblical story of Jacob meeting Rachel at the well, and "runs with it," insisting that the scene, with its evocative well, three (mystical number) flocks, and stone (gateway to the well) holds many symbolic allusions to future Jewish history. In...

Wings of Peace: Draw Water in Joy

Wings of Peace,  Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield  <http://rebaryeh.com/> This beautiful song in Hebrew and English by the late and much beloved Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield is about "drawing water in joy" (Isaiah 12:3) from the living well of God's spirit. After I listen to...

Miriam’s Well

Many women of the bible make their entrances by a well, and many commentators have noted the well as a feminine, womb-like symbol, a hidden source of life. The most famous well in Jewish lore is the Well of Miriam, the sister of Moses. The entire congregation of the...

The Cup of Miriam

To symbolize Miriam's Well, many modern families add a cup of water to their Passover Seder table, much like the cup of Elijah. You could use any beautiful goblet or make your own, as simple as painting glass or in other media. Here is are some ideas for ceremonies...

Mayim Chayim: Virtual Mikveh Meditation

Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, author, psychotherapist. and rabbi, has prepared this Virtual Mikvah Meditation to help listeners purify and renew ourselves by letting go of old patterns. After you experience it in meditation form, you might want to bring some of the same...

Ritual Handwashing: a Mini Mikveh

Washing hands in the ritual way is like a mini-mikveh. The traditional way is to use a cup of water (there are special two-handled cups that can be purchased, or just use a regular cup)when getting up in the morning, after going to the bathroom, and before saying...

A Guide’s Perspective: Meditation by a Spring

The waters emerge from deep within the earth, from the southern end of the Edwards Aquifer. The Blue Hole, or San Antonio Springs, is the headwaters of the San Antonio River. The flow varies depending on rain, and since it had been a record year for rain, the spring...

Guided Mikveh Meditation to Prepare for Shabbat

Another Mikveh meditation Rabbi Haviva Ner-David and Shira Gura (read and recorded by Rabbi Julie Danan) to help you prepare for Shabbat. You can experience this relaxing meditation either seated comfortably or lying down. Mikveh Meditation for Erev Shabbat by Rabbi...

Mikveh: Traditional and Personal Rituals of Immersion

A Mikveh is an in-ground ritual pool which can be a natural gathering of water (such as a spring, spring-fed river or the ocean),or an indoor mikveh constructed according to Jewish law. Immersing in the Mikveh is associated with rebirth and purification,and today is...

Tzedakah: Clean Water

It has been estimated that a billion people in the world lack consistent access to clean, safe water for drinking and sanitation. We are truly blessed to enjoy indoor plumbing with fresh, clean water that flows hot and cold from our taps, while in many parts of the...

Water at Sycamore Pool Dam

Gazing into water can foster a meditative state. If you can't get out to see some right now, here is a view from the small dam that makes a swimming pool in the creek at Bidwell Park, Chico California.

Guided Meditation: Miriam’s Well in the Desert

Enjoy this guided meditation on your inner Wellsprings, based on the legends of Miriam's Well, written and read by Rabbi Julie Danan. The imagery in the meditation is based on teachings from the Midrash and ancient Jewish lore. Featured Image: Natural spring mikveh...

Sharing Circle: Water From Underground

Filling Your Well Some of the ways I fill my well are: Torah study, prayer, meditation, time in nature, exercise, talking to loved ones, going on retreats. For some people it may be gardening, art (doing or appreciating), poetry, literature. Right now, are you...