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Earth Etude for Elul 15: Water is Life

by Dr. Mirele Goldsmith

Not long ago, I visited Lake Itasca, the source of the Mississippi River. I was awed by the revelation that the Mississippi watershed extends to 40% of the United States and the river itself is 2,340 miles long.  I was so moved that I spontaneously recited the blessing for fulfilling the commandement to immerse in living waters, the traditional blessing for visiting the mikveh (ritual bath.)

 Jewish tradition teaches us to appreciate water.  Water, we are taught in Genesis, existed before the creation of the world – an insight that resonates with the current scientific understanding that the Earth’s water emerged from the Big Bang and it is finite. In the vision of Ezekiel, water flows from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to all corners of Earth; teaching us that we all connected through the water cycle. Rabbi Ellen Bernstein teaches that from the perspective of Earth, people, animals, and plants are all channels through which water flows in its journey from the atmosphere to the sea.  In contrasting the hydrology of Egypt, which depends on the Nile for water, with that of the Land of Israel, which depends on rain, Dr. Jeremy Benstein points out that the Torah is teaching us that rain expresses the physical connection between heaven and Earth.

I was at Lake Itasca, in Northern Minnesota, to join water protectors protesting the construction of Line 3.  This pipeline, unfortunately now completed, brings dirty tar sands oil from Alberta to Wisconsin. When burned, this oil is even more destructive than oil from conventional sources, accelerating climate change and worsening the impacts.  The Anishinaabe who called for people of faith to come to protest with them, also fought against the construction of Line 3 because it violates their treaty rights to collect manoomin (wild rice.)  This right, called a usufructory right, depends on the clean water in which manoomin grows. 

Before I went to Minnesota, I thought it was very far away. When I was there, my eyes were opened.  We are all connected, not least through the water cycle.  The molecules of water that flow through my body once traveled the Mississippi River, and soon will again.  The water that nourishes the bodies and spirits of Native Americans on the White Earth Reservation, nourishes me. I pray that the joy of swimming in Lake Itasca will give me strength for the struggles ahead.  In the powerful mantra of the Anishinaabe and water protectors around the world, “water is life.”

Dr. Mirele B. Goldsmith is co-chairperson of Jewish Earth Alliance, a national, grassroots network empowering Jewish communities to raise a moral voice for climate action to the US Congress. 

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