A Shabbat Message from Rabbi Bob Freedman:
Ush'avtem mayim b'sasson, mimay'ney ha-y'shu-a, you will draw water in joy from springs of salvation. It's a great song to dance the hora to. It's also in the Haftarah for Yom Ha-atsma-ut, Israeli Independence day, the day on which I'm writing this.
In my memory, I associate much of the time that I've spent in Israel with water. The first time I was there, in 1985, I stayed in the newly built Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. Just inside the entrance, open to the sky, was an enclosed garden that featured a fountain and, planted by it, a tree. The verse from Psalm 1, referring to the one who desires God's teaching, was on the wall above: "He shall be like a tree planted by streams of water that bears its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does he shall prosper." Ever since seeing that garden I've prayed that Israel be a place and an idea nourished by life-giving streams of wisdom and clarity.
Images of Israel surface from my mind's photo album. In 2003 I was leading a congregational tour of Israel. We were in the bus rolling south from Jericho. Jerusalem sat on the far side of the high hills to our right. Suddenly, like a mirage, orchards of banana trees and date palms appeared living green on the slopes, brought into being by improbable water.
Several years later in April, on a bicycle tour from Jerusalem to Elat, we were in the dry lands at the south side of Be-er Sheva. Two days earlier a spring rain had fallen. By the road and in the fields beyond a carpet of blue flowers bloomed happily, grateful for the gift of water. In my mind I sang,
mashiv haru-ach, u-morid ha-gashem, let the wind blow and the rain fall. Farther south we were riding in the desert, just north of Kibbutz Keturah. Every mile or so we'd ride past a shallow ditch where acacia bushes grew, a line of green snaking through the arid sand and rock, Their roots sought moisture from invisible waterways below the surface. "Oh," I thought, "that's what the verse from the psalm is talking about."
Conversion to Judaism, symbolic rebirth, is finalized by immersion in pure water. That's an imitation of the real thing, the womb, filled with a fluid in many ways like the ocean from which all life emerged. And, of course, we call Torah, God's teaching, mayim hayyim, living, flowing water. May my prayer for Israel today flow from the Source of life. May she be a land of peace, of prosperity for all its inhabitants, a land where salvation for the Jewish people is a reality, from whence salvation may well up and nourish the whole world.