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Hazzan Steve's Message

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

You Spread Out The Earth Upon the Waters


We bless You and acknowledge You, Yah, Cosmic Majesty.

You spread out the Earth upon the Waters.


This blessing (my translation) is in the longish list of blessings of Birkot HaShachar, the

morning blessings. The blessing recognizes that we have firm ground beneath us on

which to stand and to live, which is simultaneously obvious and wondrous. It also states

an aspect of Israelite cosmology – that the firm ground is a solid layer beneath which all

is water (the seas, the water table into which wells are sunk, and so on) and above

which is more water (blue water above the bubble of air).


But wait, there is more. The verb (a participle, I think) in the second part of the blessing

is רוֹקַע, rokah. The grammatical root is part of a family of roots that all have to do with

thinness – beating metal into a thin sheet like gold leaf, stretching out a thin layer of

something, grinding spices into tiny bits, and so on. The use of rokah in the blessing

adds this layer of meaning – that the ground beneath us is a thin layer stretched or

spread over that watery layer beneath it.


If earth and ground are firm, reliable, fertile perhaps, solid, walkable, what of the water

beneath the earth? Water also can be a fertile medium, references to water can imply

the amniotic fluid that surrounded us in the womb, and we all know we cannot last long

without water nor grow food without it. Water, especially in large quantities, has another

quality - water can be disorienting, chaotic, destructive.


Our Jewish creation story (the first version, in Genesis 1 of Parashat Bereishit) assumes

that whatever it was that existed before the Holy One began creating earth and skies

was watery and chaotic, and that chaos had to be contained in order for dry land to

appear and plants and animals to be. The first step in this process of containment is

described as the creation of a “rakiah”, a space of some sort separating the waters

below from the waters above. Rakiah is grammatically related to rokah in our blessing,

and it may be that rakiah implies thinness of the separation (or maybe not – it might just

be about spreading out).


Why has this been in my thoughts this past week and more? We go about our lives

expecting things to be reliably as they usually are. And then stuff beyond our control

happens, for our community most recently the burning and defacing of the sign on the

lawn of the synagogue. We reel in some mixture of disbelief, anger, fear, disgust,

defensive determination, each of us reacting in our own way to the reminder that the

earth beneath our feet is not always solid and reliable. That sometimes the reliable

sameness is revealed to be a thin layer, stretched over the possibility of watery

intrusion.


How interesting and useful, then, to reflect that this tension between reliability and

chaos is called to our attention every morning. And we bless the Holy One for that

tension, for allowing us to get on with our lives while acknowledging that the risk of

disruption is in some sense an elemental part of being. Just a few pages later into the

morning prayers, in Ahavah Rabah, we note that our ancestors trusted God, that God

taught them the laws of life, and we ask that we, too, be the recipients of God’s grace

and teaching. This trust, bitachon in the language of the rabbinic traditions, is offered

as a path of peace and confidence in the world as it really is.


With blessings for a week of joy and engagement.


Hazzan Steve

החזן שלמה זלמן עיט בן מרדכי מרגלן

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