This Shabbat, we read the haftorah from the Book of Jeremiah. During his lifetime, Jeremiah, the prophet, remembered the exile of the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrians, when the Ten Tribes were led into captivity. The Israelites were worshiping idols and foreign gods, and Jeremiah understood that they had to be punished for their lack of trust in God.
Unlike the Israelites, Jeremiah was faithful to God. Jeremiah makes it clear to the Israelites that God will punish them with the forfeit of their land and with becoming a slave to their enemies. And a person who has faith only in other people will be cursed. But with that he contrasts, if you do worship God, you are like a tree planted by the water and will be rewarded with fresh leaves and mayim chayim. Mayim chayim, or living waters, means forever flowing water and can also be interpreted more symbolically. Throughout, living waters not only represents energy and health, but it also symbolizes fuel for the soul.
For the Jewish people, Torah has been connected with the image of mayim chayim. When you study Torah, you hydrate yourself with knowledge. The midrash enhances this Torah image of living waters with teachings and stories where Torah and water are related. On the verse, “They traveled three days in the wilderness and found no water” (22), some mystically inclined rabbis wrote, “Water actually stands for Torah,” as it is said (by Isaiah, 55:1), “All who are thirsty, come for water.” Having gone for three days without Torah, the prophets among them stepped forth and legislated that the Torah should be read on the second and fifth days of the week as well as on Shabbat so that they would not let three days pass without Torah (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Kama 82a).
We can also see that water is a powerful image in the life of Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest early rabbis. When he was 40 years old, he realized that he had no knowledge of Torah. One day, he noticed drops of water falling onto a rock and creating an imprint. He thought to himself how each small drop was having an effect in this rock, and he wondered if Torah could have the same effect upon him. The drops of water had softened the rock, and so Rabbi Akiva felt that perhaps continuous study of Torah could also have a positive outcome on him. This makes me think that Rabbi Akiva wanted to open himself up to the Torah.
Isabella Kazin is a seventh-grade student at Krieger Schechter Day School.