By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz
In my opinion, ‘modern miracles’ is a term that is grossly underused. We benefit from ‘miracles’ every moment of the day. At the touch of a finger, light fills the room. If we actually had to make all the food that fills our kitchens, we would be working night and day. We casually sit in a mobile living room and fly across the land at breathtaking speed. We can even fly through the air.
No less than any of these wonders is the ability to produce water at the twist of a knob, 24/7, 365 days a year. Few people in the developed world have experienced thirst with no access to water.
This ‘miracle’ is, perhaps, appreciated in Israel more than in other developed country.
Israel is an arid country. Precipitation is lightest in the south, amounting to about 1 inch per year in the Arava Valley south of the Dead Sea, while the north accumulates up to 44 inches a year in the Upper Galilee region.
All of Israel’s rain falls during the winter months, and Israel remains entirely dry for at least four months of the year. As such, Jewish prayers change with the seasons, and prayer for rain is said only in the winter. Since Israel has no natural water source, Israel is completely dependant on God for its water, and rainfall is seen as being affected by the relationship between God and the Jewish people.
When David fled from Saul, he ran to the Wilderness of Judah, a notoriously dry area. Psalm 63, therefore, begins with a focus on thirst.
Hashem, You are my God; I search for You, my soul thirsts for You, my body yearns for You, as a parched and thirsty land that has no water. Psalms 63:2
David experiences physical desire for water in “a parched and thirsty land.” But more significantly, he has a spiritual yearning for God’s presence, which he describes with the phrase, “my soul thirsts for You”. David recognizes the threat of scarcity of water, but says it pales in comparison to the absence of God’s presence. His physical thirst became a spiritual ordeal, expressed in spiritual terms.
Torah, God’s word, is often compared to water. When Isaiah declared, “Ho, all who are thirsty, Come for water…” (Isaiah 55:1), the sages teach that he is referring to Torah. As such, the sages mandated that the Torah should be read three times a week, since we learn from the Bible that the Jews in the desert could not go three days without water (Exodus 22; Baba Kama 82a).
Another comparison notes that just as a fish cannot live out of the water, so too the Jewish nation cannot exist without the Torah (Talmud Berachot 61b).
The sages elaborate even further on the comparison between water and God’s word (Midrash Rabbah Song of Songs) :
“The Torah has been compared to water; just as we find water all over the earth’s surface, so do we find the Torah.
Water will never cease from this globe, neither will God’s laws cease.
Water comes from the heavens, and the Torah came from heaven.
Water cleanses impurities, and God’s laws do the same.
Water coming down by drops can form a river, and so the Torah: if a man acquires Torah bit by bit he may eventually become a great scholar. A man of distinction will not think it beneath his dignity to ask for water from the meanest individual, neither is any one too great to despise instruction from the most insignificant person, and ask him: teach me one chapter, one saying, one verse, even just one letter.
One may drown in water if one cannot swim; so, unless one possesses a thorough knowledge of the Torah and all its meanings, one may be drowned in it.”
Yes, David lacks water in the desert. But his physical thirst pales in comparison to his thirst for God.