Rabbi Label Lam
There is no water except Torah! (Bava Kama 17A)
The Talmud is replete with statements that on the surface make little sense.
On the most basic level we can appreciate that whenever the Torah speaks of
“water” there is in some symbolic way a hint of the concept of Torah. Our
patriarch Yakov removes a heavy rock from the well and provides water for
the sheep of Rachel, aha, this is more than feeding time at the zoo. In a
perhaps abstract manner of thinking Yakov is teaching Torah to the masses.
That is one way to look at life with the eyes of an “impressionistic”
painter and more.
One can also explore the ways in which Torah and water have similar
properties. Water promotes growth. All living things are predominantly
composed of water. So with regard to Torah we say before Shema every
evening, it is our life, “Ki Heim Chayeinu”. It promotes spiritual living
and catalyzes growth. We can go on and on with comparisons!
I was in Israel a few years ago and hurrying by cab to my Shabbos
destination with only minutes to spare. I decided I was going to strike up a
deep and meaningful conversation with my secular Israeli driver even if he
seemed disinterested. I always take that as a challenge. Time was working
against me though. I asked his name. “Uri” he uttered barely opening his
mouth. “Where do you live, Uri?” I asked him. Again a one word response, as
if he was annoyed already with the length of the conversation,
“Yerushelaim!” I sensed a blunt pride in his tone and maybe this was my
opportunity. I told him in my best classic Bibilical and Mishnaic Hebrew
which must sound like someone speaking Shakespeare or Chaucer to us, “Uri,
ata kmo dag!- Uri, you are like a fish!” He almost let me off right there,
shooting at me a wild glance. I certainly had his attention. As I made my
meaning clear, he not only calmed down but his head started to shake in
agreement and we even parted with a friendly and respectful exchange of
I simply explained as best I could that the most obvious thing about a fish
is that he lives in water. The fish however does not realize that he is
living in water. He is surrounded by it all the time and he cannot imagine
what life would be without it. Water is his air. I told Uri, “You live here
in Yerushelaim! I’m jealous of you! You are like that fish. You can’t know
how fortunate you are. I traveled from a far distance and paid a handsome
sum of money just to be here for a few days in the holy city of Yerushelaim,
while you are here all the time!”
The Sefer Chovos Levavos offers a short list of thirty points to ponder.
Some of them are so obvious that one wonders after they are mentioned,
“Like, where have I been all my life?!” They are as obvious as water to a
fish and the eyes through which we read. A few hyper-abbreviated samples: 1)
HASHEM made us. We were not owed this existence. And He made us humans. He
could have made you and me a squirrel or an arachnid. 2) He made us whole
and with functional limbs! What’s that worth!? 3) He gave us an intellect
and a consciousness with which to explore and understand ourselves and the
world around us. 4) He gave us a Torah to navigate happily through this
world as we draw closer ultimately to Him in the world to come. 5) How much
more valuable is the Torah than any commodity in the universe!? If a mere
mortal king we to send us a letter, would we leave any part unread or
lightly understood? If a time capsule would be unearthed in the middle-east
with a hieroglyphic message for our time from some wise man of the ancient
world, would the world ignore it or celebrate its every word?
Why don’t we think this way without a reminder from the Chovos HaLevavos?
Perhaps it’s because there are certain features in life that are so near to
us so often they can easily become part of the furniture of our existence
and fade in importance like background music that’s not heard after a time.
In that way we too may resemble a fish, like Uri in over there in
Yerushelaim, we are living constantly with Torah -like water.
DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.