Water plays a very significant role in all of our lives. We can’t live without it (well, not for an extended period of time anyway), and it’s among the first necessities sought after when considering or establishing a new city or community.
We also know how much suffering is experienced in relation to water, whether it be too little water – leading to drought, not enough irrigation to support crop growth, people and animals dying from lack of water, or whether it be too much water – floods, torrential downpours causing havoc with roads and infrastructure, people and animals drowning.
This powerful element (in all of its roles) plays a strong role throughout the Torah, but especially so in this week’s parasha, and events linking back these events.
Pharaoh is so worried that the Israelites will grow in such huge numbers and overpower him and his regime, that he instructs his people regarding the Hebrews; “Every boy that is born you shall throw into the Nile …” (Exodus 1:22).
Moses was saved through a water-related act. To save him from Pharaoh’s decree, his mother placed him in a protective wicker basket and placed him in the water among the reeds, with his sister Miriam keeping an eye on him. When Pharaoh’s daughter finds him in the water, she saves him (rather than carrying out her father’s instructions), and when he comes to live in the palace, she names him Moses, explaining; “I drew him out of the water.” (Exodus 2:10).
Not only does water in general play such a contrasting role, but in this story it’s the very same water – the Nile. The same component that led to the death of so many Hebrew males served as the saviour of one Hebrew male who would go on to lead God’s people to freedom so that they could serve God.
It teaches us that we can view and understand multiple roles for the same force. The ancient Egyptians understood this about the Nile, and designed structures that would help them manage the seasonal behaviours of the water, with a view to preserving water when needed and seeking to mitigate the deluge when the Nile was predicted to flood. Yet, our story tells us they couldn’t deal with the Nile turning into blood during the plagues, nor could Pharaoh’s armies survive the closing waters of the Red Sea when chasing after the Israelites.
Moses owed his life to the waters of the Nile and to the actions of his mother, sister and Pharaoh’s daughter and her maidservants, but later on in the Torah failing to follow instructions and striking the rock to get water to flow became the death knell in his mission to get into the Promised Land.
Such powerful sources can be very unpredictable and we cannot address or foresee everything that might happen. We do, however, have the ability to learn from history/ancestry about acknowledgement of and due respect for all the elements and phenomena.
Each of us views and deals with the water in our lives differently. It’s how we respect it and acknowledge its role that will help determine its impacts on our lives.
Rabbi Sam Zwarenstein