- Rabbi Isaac Roussel
People of the Water
The parting of the Red Sea is indelibly imprinted on the Jewish soul. This is a, pardon the pun, watershed moment in the life of our people. The Song of Sea is recited daily from our siddur. Our Sages say that if one sings this daily with joy, they will merit to sing it in Olam HaBa. The midrash expresses this centrality by stating that not only did the sea part but every body of water did at the same time; the seas, rivers, lakes, ponds, puddles, and even water in cups and bowls.
Water figures prominently in the story of our exodus from Egypt. Paro commands baby boys to be thrown into the Nile. Moshe is floated in the Nile in a basket. The first plague is that same Nile turning into blood. After the parting of the sea, our people encountered bitter waters, and Hashem provided water in the wilderness through a rock. The Exodus ended with the parting of the Yardayn River.
It also figures prominently in the Torah. The Ruach hovers over the waters of Creation. A river flows through Gan Eden. Hashem brings judgment upon humanity with a deluge. In our Haftorah today, Israel’s enemies are destroyed by the flooding of a wadi. And, of course, God commands people to be purified through immersion in the waters of a mikveh.
Water is also deeply connected to Tu Beshevat, the New Year of Trees that we just observed this past week. Our Sages tell us that it is on this date, the 15th of Shevat, that most of the year’s rain has fallen and the trees are now ready to grow. Rashi states that it is on this date that the sap begins to creep up the tree, preparing to bear fruit. The Yerushalmi, the Palestinian Talmud, states that up until that date plants have been living off of last year’s rains, and now they begin living off of this year’s.
Water in the Bible is a symbol of chaos and destruction. It is with the waters of chaos that the earth is flooded. Leviathan, symbolizing evil and rebellion, which we spoke about the last two weeks, makes its home in the churning waters of chaos. In Yochanan’s revelation a terrible beast rises up out of the sea and is worshipped by the inhabitants of the earth.
But water is also the symbol of life, of God’s blessing. On Sukkot the priests would pour out water on the ground with joyous celebration, anticipating the coming rainy season. He promises through the prophet Yeshayahu that Israel will joyously draw water from the wells of salvation and that He will pour life-giving water upon a parched land, His Spirit on their children, and blessing upon Israel’s descendants. Through Yehezkiel he promises to pour water upon Israel to purify them of their idolatry. The Psalmist declares that Hashem will lead us beside still waters. Through Yirmeyahu God declares that He is the spring of living water.
Therefore, as Jews we are deeply connected to water. As I said, the splitting of the sea has forever been imprinted upon our hearts and minds. We are meant to live out the Song of the Sea. It is in our very DNA. We are God’s partners in combating evil in this world. Every day we are called to walk between threatening walls of water; Every day we are tasked with pulling others out of the raging sea of chaos onto the dry ground of the split sea. And we are His partners in bringing the life-giving and healing waters of blessing to the world. Every day we are called to be fonts of living water, showering others with blessing. Every day we are to give succor to those thirsty for the waters of Torah.
As Messianic Jews, we recognize that the one who leads us in this is our Risen Messiah. He is the one who split the seas of evil and chaos with his death and made it possible for Israel, the nations, and all of Creation to escape the doom facing them. He is the one who walked on the raging seas of chaos and he is the one who commanded it to be still. He is the one who is the source of Living Water and drinking from him, we will never thirst. He is the one who someday will destroy the Beast that will rise out of the sea and its master the dragon. He is the one who will slay Leviathan so that we can feast upon it at His great banquet in Olam HaBa.
The Torah refers to humanity as trees. The Psalmist declares that if we delight in Hashem’s Torah, we will be like trees planted by a stream, yielding fruit in its season. The prophets declare that if we take delight in God and place our hope in Him, we will be trees planted by a river, never fearing drought and always bearing fruit. Messiah Yeshua is the life-giving rain that falls upon us, his followers, and allows us to thrive and bear fruit that leads to eternal life.
The word for blessing, baracha, comes from the root Barach. The word for a pool of water, baraycha, comes from that same root. God is the source of water that brings life and blessing to the world. We are called to join with Him in this mission. May we be sources of life and blessing to all around us. May we snatch our fellow humans from the clutches of destruction and plant their feet firmly on dry ground. May we bear good fruit that leads to life everlasting. In doing so, we will someday be planted on the banks of the River of Life that will flow through the New Yerushalyim.