Diary of a World Traveller
Off the coast of the U.S. Virgin Islands
Thursday, January 17, 2002
Looking out at the turquoise-blue waters of the
Caribbean on the shores of S. Thomas, I think about Moses.
Moses? Yes, Moses.
Moses has this fascinating relationship with
water. His first – and most formative – days were spent in
a basket on the waters of the River Nile off the coast of
Egypt, where his mother placed him to hide him from the Egyptian
executioners. Later Moses strikes the Nile and turns its waters
into blood. Several other plagues originate in the water.
After leaving Egypt Moses parts the waters of the Re(e)d
Sea. He passes away on the banks of the River Jordan, where
he is laid to rest in an unknown place.
Indeed, he is named Moshe because he was ‘drawn
from water.’ What a strange name to give the G-dliest man that
ever lived! Moses was placed on the water only to protect his
life. Why should that episode – a one time event that happened
long ago – be immortalized in Moses name?!
Clearly more is going on here than meets the naked
eye. And that is precisely the significance of water, and therein
lies its mystery.
Water – the sea – represents, ‘the hidden worlds.’
Land is the ‘revealed worlds’ (using Kabbalistic terminology).
On the human microcosmic level, water and land is thought and
speech, or the conscious and unconscious. Thought and speech
are two forms of language, but with major distinctions. When
you think, the intense waters of ideas submerge the form and
shape of language, whereas in speech the ideas are not as intense,
hence the letters and words of speech take on tangible form.
This also explains why Moses was a ‘man of no
words.’ Moses soul originates from ‘the hidden worlds’ of water,
the intimate world of the unconscious, which is more profound
and intense than any words of land can express. [Moses’ burial
place is unknown on Earth for the same reason, ‘below it appeared
as though he was above and above it appeared as though he was
But for this exact reason Moses brings the Divine
Torah to Earth. Precisely because Moses is a ‘man of no (land)
words’ and is a ‘water man’ on Earth, he is able to draw from
the inner worlds, and bridge and express the language of the
Divine and communicate it to the land people. And it is the
words of Moses, the ‘man of no words,’ that are remembered forever
(‘these are the words that Moses spoke’).
Moses’ association with water goes even farther.
Though his soul comes from the ‘hidden worlds,’ Moses did not
live in a spiritual oasis, he lived on Earth, in Egypt. Indeed,
soon after birth, the water in which he was placed was the River
Nile, the idol of the Egyptians! And he was put there to prevent
him from being killed due to Pharaoh’s decree to murder all
newborn males. The very idol of Egypt comes to protect the one
who would destroy this idol.
One must wonder how young Moses was affected by
the fact that his very first days on Earth were spent not in
his mother’s arms, but in the arms of … the River Nile. What
was shaping this child’s psyche as he lay among the river reeds,
listening to the sound of water rather than his mother’s lullabies.
What we do know is that this empowered Moses with
the ability to serve as G-d’s messenger to redeem the Israelites
from the harsh Egyptian oppression. In order to free a people
from human captivity, especially one that is controlled by Egypt,
superpower of the world (where ‘even one slave could not escape’),
we must have a power that comes from something beyond human.
“A prisoner in fetters cannot free himself.” A land person cannot
free himself from a trap created by land people.
Moses, being a ‘water man’ coming from a higher
world, was able to ultimately dominate Pharaoh and Egypt and
free the Israelites. And because Moses spent the beginning of
his life on Earth in the Nile River and was saved and redeemed
from there, he had the personal experience that allowed him
to later free the Jewish people from the idolatry of Egypt.
As I sit over the water, I think of Moses.
I think of how the formidable seas and oceans
are so often associated with awe and fear. How they humble the
greatest of men and man-made creations. The Titanic has become
a symbol of this humility.
Land always seems so safe. That’s where we built
our homes. We know how to navigate land. We have tamed the wilderness,
learned to protect ourselves from the elements, built great
edifices. We are proud of our land – our lands, countries, states
Water has always been the strange place – the
dark depths of the unknown.
Yet, we are always drawn to water. Beachfront
property, swimming, boating. We are drawn to our source. Yet,
at the same time terrified of it. And we run to land for cover,
Land and water, exile and redemption, comfort
zones and truth, denial and reality – these are the poles we
continuously negotiate. Fluctuating between the comfort of our
status quo and the discomfort of our transcendental restlessness
is the story of our lives. What will it be: a life of comfortable
oppression (Thoreau’s ‘life of quiet desperation’) or uncomfortable
Land has always seemed safe and water dangerous.
When things were difficult at sea, we always looked forward
to reaching the peaceful shores.
Land, Real Estate – the permanent commodity –
has always been our source of security.
But then came September 11th…
With all the chaos and upheaval on land, I feel
how water is quite a respite. With all the confusion and uncertainty,
we must reach back into water – into the Moses within us – to
access greater strength, to transcend the space we are in and
reach a higher place.
And when we do, we must draw it down, into our
daily land life.
Life on land can be difficult. We see that now.
Yet it gets a little easier knowing that we have protective
waters surrounding us. I wonder if it would give us more comfort
if 2/3 of Earth were land and 1/3 water… It also seems worthwhile
mentioning that over 90% of the human body is comprised of…
water (not land).
Water always seems so awesome, so frightening.
Yet never have I felt the comfort of the sea as
I do today.
Perhaps the sea is the safest place on Earth