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Light in the Midst of the Darkness

Since Oct. 7th, the focus of the Jewish world has been the War in Gaza. What took place on that day was the worst pogrom against Jews since the Holocaust, and the pain we have been suffering because of the tragedy of that day, the War that ensued, and the global spike in antisemitism has shaken the entire Jewish world. We have refrained from sending out communications to our Repair the Sea community because we felt it would be insensitive, in the face of what took place on Oct. 7th, to speak about the tremendous success of the Reverse Tashlich. We felt it would be tone-deaf to speak of the threats to the marine environment while Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis, and Iran are threatening Israel. As we have entered a new year, however, I feel we owe it to you who have supported the work of Repair the Sea and participated in our programs to come together again to learn some “Water Torah” and hopefully to help us make sense of the madness we are seeing around the world today.  

Our Mission at Repair the Sea is clear: “To share the spiritual wonders of water and the Sea from a Jewish perspective, and to promote interfaith understanding and cooperation.” During these difficult times, these words resonate and speak louder than ever.

How can the spirituality of water help make sense of the chaos around the world? Well, as always, I look to the Torah for an explanation. The first 3 verses in the Book of Genesis are probably the most famous words ever written:

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ.
וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל-פְּנֵי תְהוֹם, וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל-פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם.
וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי אוֹר; וַיְהִי-אוֹר.
In the Beginning, God created the Heaven (Shamayim) and the Earth. And the Earth was without form and void, darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered on the water. And God said, “Let there be Light. And there was Light.

There are two fundamental points from the Torah’s account of “Creation” that should be noted.

  1. There was a pervasive darkness over the world, and “God” created Light to dispel the darkness.  

  2. While traditionally, the first chapter of Genesis is thought to give a metaphorical indication of the order of creation, water is the first physical substance mentioned. More importantly, while everything that follows in this chapter of the Torah is created and comes into existence by the word of God, nowhere in the text does it say that water was created. In other words, “water” has always been.

How do these points relate to the current state of the World?  

Well, the first is pretty straightforward. It feels like there’s darkness everywhere right now: The War in Gaza, global Jew-hate, xenophobia, racism, religious and sectarian violence across Asia, Africa & the Middle East, political dysfunction in the US… I could go on and on. But as the Torah says: “God said ‘Let there be Light’ and there was Light.” In a world where darkness is so prevalent, where civility and common courtesy seem to have been lost, and where honesty and integrity are passé, it is we who now need to create the Light. As the old saying goes, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the dark.” Random acts of kindness make a difference, and each of us has the ability and the power to do good for others every day. Each of us can refrain from hateful speech. We can show respect to others. We can smile at a stranger. We can donate to charity. We can help our neighbor. We can do so much to dispel the darkness around us. We just have to do it.

As for the second point, this one is more difficult. How can water impact the current state of the world? Rashi said, according to the Torah, since it is the first substance mentioned, water proceeded everything. Nachmanides (the Ramban - Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman) went further. He said, in his commentary to the second verse in Genesis: “Everything that exists under the sun or above was not made from non-existence at the outset. Instead, God brought forth from total and absolute nothing a very thin substance devoid of corporeality but having a power of potency, fit to assume form and to proceed from potentiality into reality. This was the primordial matter created by God; it is called by the Greeks hiyuly. After the hiyuly, nothing else was created, but God formed and made things with it, and from this hiyuly God brought everything into existence, clothed the forms, and put them into a finished condition.”

What Ramban called Hiyyuly, a substance devoid of corporeality but with the power to assume form, sounds to me like water in its primordial state. Water has no set form. It is the only substance that exists naturally in our world in all three states of liquid, gas, and solid. It cannot be carbon-dated; therefore, it has no beginning and no end. Most importantly, every living being, whether plant or animal, is made up mostly of water. It is the substance we all share and without it… we die. All are water. Water is what unites us. Just as a family shares the same DNA, all creation shares the same water because the water in you and the water in me, at one time or another, was in a whale or a worm. It was a raindrop or a snowflake. It was in a river and the Ocean. It was in a black person. It was in a white person. It was in a brown person. It was in a Jew. It was in a Christian. It was in a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist... All of Creation is interconnected by water.

How can this help us to dispel the darkness in our world? Perhaps if we could begin to see that which binds us, we could see beyond that which divides us. We are all made of the same substance. Race, religion, gender, politics, and identity… these are all surface characteristics that separate people. When we can see the unity of water, perhaps we will begin to see the unity of humanity and of all Creation, and then maybe… just maybe, we will truly see the unity of “God.”

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