Jewish Journal

Under the Sea

by Rabbi Ilana Grinblat

February 4, 2010 | 10:05 pm

Recently, I took my kids to the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific. As we walked through the exhibit, we reached one observatory with many fish, coral, and a diver who was cleaning the glass of the window. We watched the fish for a few minutes, and then I asked the kids if they’d like to go see the rest of the exhibits. They refused to move. They just wanted to stay at that one area. Seeing the look of wonder in my children’s eyes, I too became mesmerized by the fish with their vibrant colors, and intricate patterns – each one unique from the rest but yet interconnected in a web of interdependent relationships.

I thought: there must be a God; there’s no way that all this is a fluke. One could argue about how nature developed and how long this process took, but no matter what, I felt that it couldn’t be an accident – but rather a thoughtful design. This moment was not an intellectual realization but simply a feeling in my kishkes (guts) – a quiet sense of awe and wonder.

This week’s Torah portion is perhaps the most dramatic one in the entire Torah. The parasha recounts how with earthquakes, thunder, lightening, and a loud blast of the shofar, God spoke the words of the Ten Commandments to the people at Mount Sinai. Amidst all this noise, there’s one small phrase which is easily overlooked. In the fourth commandment, the reason to keep Shabbat is explained: “because in six days God created the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day.”

The rabbis noted a curiosity in the language here that the sea is specifically mentioned. By contrast, Genesis 1:1 states that “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” without mentioning the sea (which is assumed to be included in the earth).

In the Mekhilta (a third century commentary on Exodus), the rabbis explained that the sea is specifically mentioned to highlight that “the sea is equal to all other works of creation.” This teaching is a powerful statement about the importance of the sea. As our oceans are now in grave danger from pollution, this verse reminds us of our duty to protect the sea.

In our day, spiritual awakening might not entail earthquakes, thunderbolts, and lightening. One can sense the sacred simply by taking an afternoon stroll by the sea.

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Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches rabbinic literature at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their...

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