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“Mighty waters would not be able to quench love, and rivers would not drown it.”- Shir HaShirum, 7:8.
The other day, my mom and I were walking on the beach. It was a crisp, foggy morning. We walked quickly to warm up and to make our daily quota before returning to our car. We were silent, taking in the smell of salt and sand, the crashing of the waves playing a melody in the background. I listened for the sound of my breath, trying to match it to the rhythm and timing of the water.
“I love the beach, but I could never live by the beach,” my mom announced suddenly. “I’d be too afraid to live by the water.” She looked at me for confirmation. I nodded. We continued on. I looked back on the waves as we turned around to head to the car.
When did we learn to fear water?
Fearing water—the deep, never ending oceans, rivers, lakes, even rain—feels like a right of passage. As children, we’re captivated by the majesty of the ocean, transfixed on its epic beauty and never ending secrets. But, as an adult, I can honestly attest to being afraid of the ocean. What if I fall in? What if I can’t swim back? What if I drown?
When does that switch happen? When do we go from being captivated to terrified?
When did life become something that we fear rather than something we embrace?
Imagine the world as an ocean that ebbs and flows in two ways: at times, it flows gently and peacefully. The world is a welcoming place. Its very nature draws you in; it holds you close, it cradles you.
And yet. There are days when the waters will violently spit you out. There are days when the world will chew you to pieces and you’ll wonder how you can possibly go on.
If the world is water, and water is something we fear, we’re in for a bumpy ride.
There are a lot of things I fear:
Not being good enough.
Most days feel like a bag of fear. My reality is a by-product of those fears. My life has become a series of moments when I’m gasping for air and doggy paddling in a choppy, stormy sea. During a thunderstorm. Surrounded by sharks.
If you look at the world and see a dropoff of deep, black, endless ocean, you’re bound to always be stuck in a cycle of fear. This comes from living in a realm where we do not recognize anything higher than ourselves. There is only what we see with the naked eye, and it ain’t pretty.
But, there’s another way: you can look at the world as an ocean full of hidden treasures and mystery. Not something to fear, but something to embrace. Nothing to run from, but something to become curious about. Something worth exploring. Something deeper than our cognitive understanding.
This thing…? The ‘ultimate, deep, somewhat beyond us but still within us’ feeling? That is the feeling of grasping that the world is bigger than us, and that Hashem is bigger than us.
Hashem is water. If the world is water, Hashem is water. Because Hashem is everything.
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably staring at the screen right now with a huge question mark on your face. Huh? What? Hashem is water and water is Hashem and He’s all everything and there is nothing to fear? Whhhaaaat?
It seems fairly straight forward. We know that Hashem is one, and that therefore there is nothing but Him.
To know this is one thing. To integrate this is something else entirely.
In his 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College, the late David Foster Wallace shared the following anecdote: “There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the heck is water?”
In this world, we often swim through, very much like the two fish in Wallace’s anecdote, completely unaware of what it is that surrounds us. The most important realities are the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.
We ‘know’ we’re in a world of G-dliness.
We ‘know’ that there is a higher purpose.
We ‘know’ that we’re not in control.
But, do we really know?
In a physical world, where we’re being thrown around by physical, mundane experiences, it’s really hard to see that this is all water.
Every physical reality in this world has a spiritual counterpart.
In Mayim Rabim, the mamaar (Chassidic discourse) given over by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1977, the Rebbe sought to speak to those who were comfortable with their material lives but struggling to access spirituality.
No matter how much one may be flooded with physicality—with fear—the flame of the soul burns forever bright. When you recognize that nothing can put out the intrinsic connection between you and G-d, there is nothing to fear.
Mighty waters cannot put us out.
What the heck is water? This is water.
“Ok, Leigh. That’s great. But what does this have anything to do with me?”
Ah, I’m glad you asked. I cannot guarantee anything, but I can offer you this:
There are very few things that we can control in this world. In fact, what we can control gets boiled down to awareness. You get to consciously decide how and what you will react to. You get to make the choice of feeding into your fears.
Don’t get me wrong—this will take work. It takes work to actively shift your awareness.
Surfing the waves of life requires a fine tuning of your senses that will open your eyes to the hidden things in this world.
But, if you look closely, you’ll see that they’re not really hidden at all.
This is water. Mayim Rabim. Nothing but Hashem. Nothing but an ocean of ups and downs—physical and spiritual. And even if the waters send us thrashing, they’ll never be able to extinguish what resides at our core.
“The whole entire world is a very narrow bridge…but the main thing to recall is to have no fear at all.”—Rabbi Nachman of Breslev.
Imagine, if you will, a very narrow bridge. Maybe it’s over a bustling river. Maybe it’s over a mountain peak. Maybe the bridge is built over your heart. But, it’s there. We’ve all seen narrow bridges before; we’ve walked across them and admired them from afar with a tremble of fear in our cores.
Bridges are scary sometimes.
But, they also connect us each other.
Bridges are, at their very essence, for the sake of connecting people to each other, for connecting mass spaces of land together. They’re there to close a gap. It’s not the bridge that is as frightening as what it stands to close.
But the main thing to recall is to have no fear at all. If bridges are meant to connect us between one thought to another, one person to another, one heart to another, then what is there to fear? No matter how narrow the bridge is, there will always be something on the other side.
That’s what we’re here for.
Welcome to the Gesher Project. Our mission? To create an online space that offers a fresh, illuminated, and new perspective on age old aspects of Judaism. Words from the Chasidic masters spoken and shared by contemporary Jewish creatives. Quite literally, we seek to bridge the gap between two worlds, making them one.
This experiment is brought to you by Jewish creatives who seek and strive to find a deeper purpose and meaning within their everyday lives. We are artists, writers, musicians, educators. People. We’re ordinary people seeking an extraordinary existence. What we want—what we all want—is to bridge the gap between one reality and another.
We believe that a full, complete, and well rounded life comprises of aspects from both worlds. Not only that, but we know—and seek to teach—how everything in the world can be found in and exists in a state of holiness.
Our aim is to close the divide between Jewish and Secular schools of thought; not only do we intend to connect the two worlds, but we plan on demonstrating how the two can be and should be one.
Who This Project is for:
Students of life; those who are sipping the waters of Judaism for the first time, as well as for those already immersed in a Torah life but seek to understand it and own it…in short, everyone. Welcome, friends!
Note: As this is a newly seeded project that is still in its growth process, we turn to you, our valued readers and community, for feedback and support. Let us know how we’re doing! Let us know what’s working…and definitely let us know what’s not working (kindly, please. It’s all about kindness here). Which topics should we be addressing? What should we speak more of, or less of? We want you to be our partners in this journey.
Onwards towards the bridge of life!