All major religious traditions hold water to be sacred. It is most commonly associated with notions of purification, rebirth and fertility. Judaism is certainly no exception. Indeed the Rabbis in numerous places analogise matters of Torah to water, with one declaring: “Just as water [extends] from one end of the earth to the other, as it is written: “To the One who spreads the earth over the water” (Psalms 136:6), so too, Torah, extends from one end of the earth to the other, as it is stated: “Its measure is longer than the earth” (Job 11:9).
This week is the Jewish festival of Sukkot – effectively a harvest festival. One of Sukkot’s prime concerns is that of water; it is designated as the time when God would apportion rainfall for the forthcoming year. Zechariah, from where we obtain the reading from the Prophets for the first day, gives Sukkot a universal twist as he holds that the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem should be undertaken by the nations of the world and posits that those who fail to show up “shall receive no rain”.
Unlike for those surrounding nations where water supply is predictable and regular (for example the Nile delta or the Tigris-Euphrates valley), for Israel water is a matter of faith. Deuteronomy’s geography tutorial, placed in the mouth of Moses, is instructive here:
“The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt from where you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end”.
And it adds:
“If you indeed heed My commandments with which I charge you today, to love the Lord your God and worship Him with all your heart and with all your soul, I will give you rain in your land in its season, the early and the late rain”.
The precious, life-giving resource of water on this blue planet of ours has seen a decline of 35% in the species that live within its realm since 1970. Due to climate change, much of the world is experiencing drier conditions with prolonged soil moisture reduction – we have all seen the parched fields throughout much of the UK in the Summer just gone by. To ensure a more sustainable future, it is maybe imperative that we adopt the attitude towards it that rings out from our sources – its nature is precarious, bestowed as a divine gift and an understanding that, for it to descend in the most munificent way, it requires our right action.
Philip Goldenberg, member of the Jewish faith
Date: Monday 17th October 2022