When Water and Land Collide
When a calamity strikes the public we must cry
out, examine our lives and correct our ways. To say that
the calamity is merely a natural phenomenon and a chance
occurrence is insensitive and cruel – Maimonides,
Laws of Fasting 1:2-3
When hundreds of thousands of lives are tragically
and abruptly aborted due to a “natural” disaster,
it must serve as a wake-up call to us all.
Even on a most basic level, it is nothing
less than callous to be complacent if face of any catastrophe,
especially one so sudden and so devastating, affecting so
many lives, now and forever.
That’s why it is admirable to see the outpouring
of international aid – from nations and from individuals
– to the stricken countries. Obviously much more can and
should be done to address the people in crisis. Yet, it
is important to acknowledge every positive gesture of help.
Though hardly a consolation to the magnitude
of today’s great tragedy, it is mildly comforting
to witness nations having at least a semblance of awareness
that we all are part of one human race, and we therefore
share responsibility toward one another, something quite
unprecedented in human history. You can’t help but
wonder how countries behaved toward each other in centuries
past when disaster struck their neighbors. Not only were
nations oblivious of each other; they often were at war
with one another, and natural calamities were simply exploited.
The mystics see our responsibility for each
other in a cosmic way. All human beings – and for
that matter, every fiber of existence – are part of
one large organism; each an indispensable musical note in
the Divine symphony. We are all integrally connected and
interconnected. The loss and pain of one component affects
us all. Indeed, all of time, space and spirit (man) are
pieces of one seamless tapestry.
Yet, this integral web connection is hidden
from our view. A great “shroud” conceals our
interconnectivity and interdependence. The shroud is called
the “grand tzimtzum” – a cosmic black
hole that turns existence inside out, and allows us to think
that we are alone and disconnected from everything else.
It creates the narcissistic perception that the only thing
that exists is you, in this moment and this space, with
no inkling of your fundamental link with all other moments,
spaces and people.
This “tzimtzum” is the startling root – both
brilliant and horrific – of all human apathy, of every form
of indifference and complacency that we are so capable of.
Since we are all one cohesive organism, how is it possible,
ask the mystical students of unity, that we should be able
to go our way, sleep and otherwise disregard the suffering
of our brethren?! Can one part of a body be at peace when
another part is ailing?
Blindness is the answer. The great shroud
masks our integral unity, and as a result we fell separate,
to the point that we can actually harm each other, not recognizing
that in doing so we harm ourselves as well.
Life’s great challenge – as great and even
greater than the “tzimtzum” itself – is to wake up and be
aware: To open the curtains and reveal the underlying unity
through living an integrated life.
We cannot grasp the mystery of human suffering.
Silence has always been the ultimate response to unfathomable
tragedy. Not the silence of resignation. The silence of
strength – of standing in overwhelmed awe of experiences
that the human mind cannot contain. Not logic, not reason,
not all of our other limited faculties can process the sheer
senselessness of loss and grief.
Yet, men and women of deep faith always went
a step further. They did not allow suffering to break them
and their belief in the force of good. After silently acknowledging
the mystery of pain, they forged ahead with fortitude and
strength to become greater people and make the world a more
They understood that our integral unity infers
another vital conclusion: Just as we are hurt when others
are in pain, even thousands of miles away, we have the power
to strengthen each other as well. In some strange way, our
personal behavior in one corner of the globe has the power
to repair ruptures in another part of the world.
* * * * * *
Yet, even as we intensify our commitment to
goodness – and do everything in our power to help
the less fortunate – the epic proportions of this
tragedy overshadows all our kindness.
Lives have been lost, families shattered,
millions traumatized. And above all, we have all been exposed
to the sheer vulnerability of our lives on Earth. The earthquake
and resulting tsunamis were not an act of man. They were
an act of G-d. Some call it “nature,” but that
simply is a name for the “program” that runs
Not to diminish human travesties, yet mans’
potential inhumanity to man is the tragic side-effect made
possible by free will. This does not justify nor explain
genocide initiated by humans. But at least we can state
that the essential importance of free will and all its great
benefits gives our existence purpose and meaning, and even
if we don’t understand why, this benefit is worth
the risk of people choosing to be destructive.
But in our case the catastrophe was an act
of G-d. Not a human error or crime, but a result of the
very fabric of “mother nature,” which produces
earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis and other violent phenomena.
How can we possibly explain natural disasters
in context of a good G-d?
True, once can say that earthquakes and tsunamis
are not “disasters” per se; they are part of
the “checks and balances” of the universe to
maintain its balance. As, say, the tectonic plates that
comprise the earth’s crust collide with each other,
an inevitable earthquake relieves their tension and strain
(like the spout on a kettle that allows for the release
of steamed pressure). If there were no earthquakes to release
the energy, the plates would ultimately destroy each other,
causing far greater damage to the entire planet. Hundreds
of small earthquakes therefore occur daily around the world.
If human were not living in the regions of
these events, these natural “corrections” would
silently keep the world intact with no trace of human casualty
(as it is now with many of these forces occurring in mild
forms, beneath the sea or in other places that do not impact
humans directly). However, the fact is that humans have
populated the universe (as commanded by G-d), and live in
areas where they are vulnerable to the powerful forces of
nature. We therefore must understand why are we exposed
to these forces, and what possible reason can a good G-d
want us to experience them from time to time, often with
The question is amplified when it comes to
the present disaster named “tsunami,” killer
waves that destroy everything in their path as they strike
The Bible tells us that G-d decreed upon the
sea that it should never cross over onto land. “This
far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud
waves halt” (Job 38:11).
He created a “line in the sand,” as it were,
which serves as a boundary between water and land, never
to be crossed.
“Do you not fear me? Says G-d: will you not
tremble at My presence, which has placed the sand for the
bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass
it: and though the waves toss themselves, yet can they not
prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it?”
How then can tsunamis cross over this seemingly
impassable boundary? What happened to the decree that the
“proud waves” go no farther that their own domain?!
The explanation requires a fuller understanding
of water and land – the two global entities that Earth
is comprised of.
In the beginning of time all of Earth was
submerged in water. Then came a “divide between water
and water,” separating the “waters above”
from the “waters below” (Genesis 1:6), and the
waters below were “gathered to one place,” allowing
dry land to emerge, thus creating the distinction between
“earth” and “sea” (1:9).
Ever since water and land have had a tenuous
relationship, at times even at war with each other. On one
hand land is in need of water for its sustenance. Yet, too
much water can cause destruction. We are drawn to beaches
and waterfronts, yet we fear the awesome power of the sea.
The mystics explain, that the material nature
of the universe is but a manifestation of its spiritual
personality. Water and land embody two forms of consciousness:
Water is the unconscious, “hidden worlds,” and
land is the conscious, “revealed worlds.” Water
reflects utter unity, where all its creatures are submerged
and always feel connected to their source. While land symbolizes
fragmentation, with its creatures feeling separate from
their source and from each other.
The universe began submerged in water to ingrain
in its “psyche” its fundamental unity. But the
purpose of creation is to separate the “upper”
from the “lower” and “land” from
“sea,” and that human initiative should reunite
our seemingly “disconnected” world of “land”
with its source and purpose.
When our work in doing so is complete, there
will no longer be “evil and destruction” because
the “universe will be filled with Divine knowledge
as the waters cover the sea.” The evil and destruction
that humans can perpetrate against each other is only possible
when we do not feel our integral unity. But when we perceive
that we are all like “fish in the sea,” submerged
in and indistinguishable from our source (Divine knowledge),
our interconnectivity will prevent any destruction.
Microcosm macrocosm. Each of us humans –
mirroring the larger universe – begins life submerged
in the watery womb. Nine months we spend there before we
enter “dry land” upon birth. During this time
our psyches develop a profound internal unity, which prepares
us to face the existential loneliness of life on “land.”
Then, upon birth, that “water” consciousness
recedes into the background of our unconscious, and our
conscious lives follow the psyche of “land mammals,”
each of us self-contained in the here and now, living out
our fragmented lives.
So the big question is this: Are we “water”
people or “land” people? The answer is that
in essence we are “water” people, integrally
united with our source, but on our conscious level we have
a “land” personality, with the purpose being
that we discover the “water” within.
But here is the dilemma. Once land and water
were separated, a primal and deep-seated tension separates
them. The fragmented conscious universe becomes so consumed
with its own immediate survival and self-gratification that
it does not relate to the integral unity of “water
True, this division was initiated by the Creator
who separated “land” from “water,”
but the purpose of the separation was that we should emerge
from the “womb” as independent entities, and
transform the conscious world of “land” into
a “world filled with Divine knowledge as the waters
cover the sea.”
Indeed, the spiritual root of the separation
between “earth” and “sea” is the
tzimtzum itself. In order for us to exist as individuals
we cannot be (at least consciously) submerged in the all
encompassing “light-energy” of the Infinite.
The divine decree therefore dictates that there be a boundary
between “water” and “land.”
Yet, there are times when a door opens up
between these two worlds. Sometimes it’s a healthy
door, and sometimes it’s a devastating one.
This water/land dichotomy is a recurrent theme
throughout the Bible. Take this week’s Torah portion.
Moses is so named for he “was
drawn from water.” The very water (River Nile) that
could have caused the child Moses’ demise, as so many newborn
males were tragically drowned in the River, becomes his
savior. The very idol of Egypt comes to protect the one
who would destroy this idol. Later Moses would part the
sea, another manifestation of land/sea interaction.
The mystics explain that Moses was a “man
of no words” because his soul originated 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. But for this exact reason
Moses introduced unprecedented revelation to Earth. Precisely
because Moses is a “water man” living 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.
This only goes to show us how the two worlds
of “land” and “sea” are so dichotomous,
and we need Moses to help us bridge the two.
But even as they are bridged by Moses an inherent
tension remains between “water” and “land.”
A battle rages between them.
A tsunami is perhaps the strongest manifestation
of this battle. What’s strange is that the force of
a tsunami – a water surge that can travel up to 500
miles an hour – is not felt at sea. Ships in the open
sea will barely notice the one or two foot waves generated
by a tsunami. Its savage impact is experienced only as the
tsunami strikes shore.
In other words water is not affected by water,
no matter how powerful its force. Only land is affected,
Another fascinating fact is that a tsunami
does not originate from water alone. Unlike wind-generated
waves – the conventional sort that we are accustomed
to – tsunamis are generated from the imbalance between…
land and sea. Only a violent disturbance of the seabed –
caused by an earthquake, landslides, volcanic eruption,
explosion, or the impact of a meteorite – can generate
tsunamis. When an impulsive disturbance vertically displaces
the water column, it pushes a huge bulge of water to the
surface, which results in a tsunami racing toward the shore.
A possible cosmic parallel to a tsunami is
the Kabbalistic “breakage of the vessels” caused
by the tension created between the imbalance of too much
energy (“water”) and too little containers (“land”).
This break (”shevirat ha’keilim”) is devastating;
it releases chaos (“tohu”), hurtling “sparks”
in all directions, embedding them in the deepest recesses
of our material world.
However, the breakage is a necessary step
in helping realign a misaligned universe. By exploding it
releases the tension created by the tzimtzum between the
energy and the containers – the dichotomy of the two
realities, our independent one and the underlying unity
that lies within.
The breakage is only a step toward repair
(tikkun). We are charged with the mission to search and
discover the scattered sparks within our material lives.
Our calling is to gather, reconnect and elevate the sparks
back into place, by integrating matter and spirit, land
and water, in a healthy, balanced way.
Similarly, a tsunami results from the disparity
and imbalance between land and water.
Yes, there is an impenetrable barrier that
separates water from land – a Divine decree declaring
“This far you may come and no farther.” However,
the purpose of this boundary is that “land”
should learn to reconnect with the “inner water”
of our unconscious, in a healthy and balanced way. As Moses
– “drawn from water” – led the way.
As long as they are not aligned, from time
to time the rift will explode in an enormous surge of water
Big disclaimer. All this discussion does not
minimize not explain the tragedy of all the lives lost.
It simply is an attempt to understand the deeper roots of
water attacking land, and its personal lesson in our lives.
Psychologically speaking, the unconscious
(water) and the conscious (land) must make their peace;
they need to become aligned in one seamless flow, as they
were always meant to be. As long as they do not, the untamed
unconscious can occasionally explode in all its wildness;
in a ferocious display of unfettered energy.
Another manifestation of this phenomenon in
our modern age is the information revolution. Knowledge
is likened to water. But like water, knowledge can work
both ways: As a powerful force for growth, or as a force
that devastates lives. The information revolution of today
– in which we can immediately access (google) enormous
amounts of information – can be a blessing or a curse.
How many of us have become swamped by the
waves of information flooding our lives? The constant media
stream – via TV, the Internet, hand-helds, I-pods,
and you name it – has inundated our lives, create
information addicts and may be causing more damage than
of knowledge with its assault on our psyche, is in many
ways worse than any physical flood. Yet, within the curse
lies the cure. This flood of information alerts us to the
dangers of knowledge without focus; information without
integration. And it reminds us that we must embrace Divine
knowledge – knowledge that lifts and empowers us to
be proactive and take control of circumstances, instead
of knowledge and information that turns us into robotic
observers and victims as it demoralizes and makes us anxious.
Water and land – two worlds that live side
by side. So different, yet so intertwined.
Two worlds in our eyes. But really one and
the same. They were once one – at the beginning of
it all. And they will become one once again – at the
end of days, when the world will be “filled with Divine
knowledge as the waters cover the sea.”
From time to time we are reminded of their
interdependence and of their imbalance – a reminder
that is meant to make us aware of the need to align the
two consciousnesses of water and land and relieve their
tension once and for all. It’s up to us to unite them
in a way that maintains the personality of each.
Water reminds us that we are all one, originating
and being sustained by one uniting source. Some scientists
have pointed out the fact that after a major earthquake,
the whole world resonates like a bell that has been struck.
Even more intriguing is that a big piece of the planet’s
mass has been moved around, which actually altered the axis
of the earth’s rotation.
May this resonating reminder only come in
a blessed way – in a year filled with abundantly revealed
May all those that have suffered loss be consoled
and comforted. May they find the strength to rebuild their
And may all of us stand humbled in silence
and in support. May we take this tragedy to heart and determine
to integrate healthy “water” into our parched
land lives. Let us learn from Moses, the man of “water”
how to draw into our lives the Divine water.
May we do our part in filling our lives and
this world with Divine knowledge and behavior, “as
the waters cover the sea.”