Spacious, Godly expanse

Seashores invite reflection.  Riverbanks induce introspection.  Often in the presence of swelling and receding tides, memories collect, dreams visit, and fresh ideas become available.  The Torah calls the water’s edge, s’fat hayam (‘the lips of the sea’). The phrase alludes to ‘the language of the sea’.  It depicts a setting where effervescent waters help thoughts coalesce, insinuating fresh content into our minds. 

Our ancestors memorably dwell on the shores of the Red Sea in this week’s portion of Torah. The empathetic Seder custom to spill out drops of wine captures the sobering reality that the Sea becomes an Egyptian graveyard (as the Nile had been for Hebrew infants years earlier) “And Israel saw Egypt dead on the seashore” (Ex. 14:30). The only other appearance of our phrase occurs when God promises Abraham “I will bless and multiply your seed like the stars of the skies, and like the sand that’s on the seashore” (Gen. 22:17). 

Egypt signifies narrowness, a dangerous tightness.  By contrast, God’s covenant with Abraham connotes a vast expanse, limitless fertility.  It’s no accident that the God first describes the ‘covenanted land’ to Moses at the Burning Bush as wide and spaciously good ‘tova ur’chava’ (Ex.3:8).

Tightening limitations intensify our anxiety.  Their confinement can induce solitude, even drowning panic.  When we’re trapped, we seek a widening of possibilities.  We yearn to see more than slivers of hope.  Waterways have a knack for widening our lens. 

“When I felt stuck and trapped, my Lord, You responded with Godly expanse” (Ps. 118:5).  May trusting friends and faith make for a more spacious orientation toward life’s potential.  There is nothing trivial or peripheral about seeing more.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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