Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mayyim Hayyim - The Water of Life

By Rabbi Jacob Fine

Lack of water is not something that most Americans tend to worry that much about, especially here in Seattle. Walk into any household anywhere in America any time of year and, provided that the bills are paid, when you turn the faucet, water is going to flow out of the tap. Clean, fresh water in America is so ubiquitous that it is a profound spiritual challenge not to take it for granted.
Tragically, much of the world’s population is in a very different situation. Over one billion men, women, and children (more than four times the population of the United States and Canada combined) lack safe water to drink. It is surprising for many of us to learn that the lack of safe drinking water is the primary cause of disease in the world today, causing 80% of the world’s health problems. Every day, tens of thousands of people die from causes directly related to contaminated water. 1
In America, among the rare demographics that are deeply sensitive to water, both in its abundance and in its absence, are our farmers. Regardless of the scale or style of farm, H2O is one thing that all growers need.
Given that the Torah is in many ways an agricultural book, it should come as no surprise that water is a frequent actor. Water emerges sometimes in the form of a blessing, such as when Isaac digs anew his father’s wells and discovers springs, and sometimes in the form of a curse, as in the case of Noah’s flood.
And on many occasions, we find the Israelite people in want of water. In Hukkat, the first of this week’s double parshah, we find the Israelites complaining bitterly to Moses and Aaron for having led them out of Egypt to a land without water. “Why have you brought the Lord’s congregation into this wilderness for us and our beasts to die there? Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this wretched place, a place with no grain or figs or vines or pomegranates? There is not even water to drink!” (Numbers 20:4-5)
Even for those of us who are not ourselves farmers, the more deeply that we are connected to the source of our food—the more deeply we become sensitive to water. One of the by-products of eating seasonally is that you become more intimately attuned to local weather patterns. You notice when it rains a lot because your strawberries are super plump and watery. And you notice when it hasn’t been raining at all because your kale is bitterer while your tomatoes are much sweeter.
In addition to all of the other benefits, eating produce grown on local farms is a way to sensitize ourselves to the central place that water plays in all our lives. As part of the world’s privileged minority who lives without fear of going without clean and abundant water, let us use our deepening relationship with the source of our food as an opportunity to become more conscious of mayyim chayim—the water of life. Let us open our hearts to the Israelites’ cry which is a current reality for far too many people today—‘’There is not even water to drink!”
Shabbat shalom, Rabbi Jacob
Please direct comments to Rabbi Jacob Fine at

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