Why do we venture to the sea and its shores?
I turn to the ancient rabbis. (That is what Jews do when seeking answers to their questions.)
Rabbi Eliezer responds: “The entire world drinks from the waters of the ocean.” (Taanit 9b). I read on to discover that he and his colleagues were debating where rain water comes from. I am impressed by my ancestor’s understanding of the cosmos. Another rabbi argues with Eliezer. “But the waters of the ocean are salty, whereas rainwater is sweet.” The debate continues. Rabbis!
Perhaps Eliezer means his teaching metaphorically. Our spirit drinks in nourishment from the oceans. Every summer we wait in hours of traffic just to make our way to its beaches. It is calming. The waves are restorative.
The poet, Mary Oliver, offers a teaching. (That is what I also look to when searching for answers.)
I am in love with Ocean
lifting her thousands of white hats
in the chop of the storm,
or lying smooth and blue, the
loveliest bed in the world.
In the personal life, there is
always grief more than enough,
a heart-load for each of us
on the dusty road. I suppose
there is a reason for this, so I will be
patient, acquiescent. But I will live
nowhere except here, by Ocean, trusting
equally in all the blast and welcome
of her sorrowless, salt self.
The ocean is the antidote to grief. It is the answer to what ails us. No amount of tears can ever fill its depths.
Rabbi Judah states: “A person who sees the ocean recites the blessing, ‘Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who has made the great sea.’" (Berachot 54a) We are commanded to say a myriad of blessings. When seeing a rainbow, when eating an apple, when seeing a mountain, when sitting down to a meal, but regarding the ocean the sages offer a clarification.
A month must have passed since last seeing the ocean. Most people read this emendation as a warning. You should not say this blessing everyday as you should, for example, the motzi. I of course read it differently.
Don’t let a month go by without seeing the ocean!
Find its waves. Seek out its shores. Touch its waters. Cast your grief to its depths. Our souls require nourishment. Our spirits need renewal.
And it can be discovered a few short blocks from our homes.