One of my favorite movies of all time is “Fiddler on the Roof.” In the very first scene Tevye says: “Because of our traditions, we've kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka, we have traditions for everything: how to sleep, how to eat... how to work... even how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered, and always wear a little prayer shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, "How did this tradition get started?" I'll tell you….I don't know. But it's a tradition... and because of our traditions... Every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”
The scene ends when Tevye says: “Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as….as a Fiddler on the Roof.”
“A Fiddler on the Roof?” If Tevye had ever shuffled across the deck of a dive boat in full scuba gear with fins on a rolling sea, then he would know what shaky really is. So what’s the connection between the village of Anatevka and the sun drenched waters of the Florida Keys? That, I can tell you in one word: TRADITION!
Tradition? Really? I’ve been on enough dive boats in my day to know that most people are not thinking about tradition as they’re getting ready for a dive. They’re checking their gear, checking their buddy, reviewing the dive plan, listening to the Dive Master and a host of other things. But it’s a safe bet that they are NOT thinking about tradition. Now bear with me for a moment, and picture yourself on the boat. It’s your turn to enter the water. The briefing is finished. You’ve done all the necessary checks of yourself and your buddy. You’ve shuffled over to the dive platform. You prepare for your giant stride. Your BCD is filled. Mask and gauges are secure and, with one step you’ve made that beautiful transition from the terrestrial world of gravity to the world of water.
It’s at this point that you check with your buddy, give the descend signal and head down into the Blue. And it is at this point that I think of our Jewish tradition.
Remember the opening scene in ”Fiddler?” In that scene Leibish asked the Rabbi: “Is there a proper blessing... for the Tzar? “A blessing for the Tzar? Of course!” responds the Rabbi. “May God bless and keep the Tzar... far away from us!” Leibish asked the question because in the Jewish tradition we have a blessing for everything. Most of us know we’re supposed to say a blessing before we eat, but not everyone is aware that we are also supposed to say a blessing when we have certain experiences; like seeing lightning or hearing thunder, seeing mountains or other wonders of nature. And what could be more wondrous and beautiful than the Aquatic World?
So does God/The Creator/or whatever you want to call It really need us to give thanks? I imagine there are far more important issues at hand for that Entity than whether or not I say a few words. So what’s the point?
The purpose of a blessing is to raise our consciousness to a higher level. To take those actions and experiences which every living creature has (and usually takes for granted) and raise them to a level of holiness.
How many times have you descended from the surface only to get right into exploring the reef or searching for that next photo?
I always make it a point to pause as I’m descending. I take in the panorama as it reveals itself before me. I embrace the sensation of flying through this totally foreign world that I am privileged to visit for a short time. I am humbled by the diversity of life that surrounds me, and the vast array of colors and shapes. I feel the awe… and I recite a blessing.
For thousands of years, our tradition has taught that when one sees wonder and beauty in nature we should say:
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheynu Melech HaOlam, Oseh Ma’aseh V’raysheet Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who makes all the wonders of creation.
When we are under water, we not only see the majesty and beauty, but we are engulfed by it...we become part of it.
The Talmud says (Berackot 35b) “To enjoy this world without a blessing is like stealing from God.” I can’t say for certain that I’m stealing from God if I don’t say a blessing when I enter the underwater world. I am certain however, that if I don’t say a blessing... I am stealing from myself.