Basking in the sun and gazing at the waves, swimming and floating in the salt water: a seaside retreat is a timeless way to promote calm and healing. On a spiritual level, the depth, power, and mystery of the ocean evoke our awe and open us to a state of wonder more readily than almost anywhere else on earth. Diving near a coral reef or visiting an aquarium, we see that beneath the surface of the sea are worlds upon worlds of eco-systems filled with myriads of amazing creatures.

Earth might be called the sea planet, since over 70% of our globe is covered with great oceans, which can really be described as one World Ocean. Seas are technically just parts of those oceans that are partly enclosed by land. Oceans and seas are vital to life on our planet: containing 97% of our water, half of our oxygen and absorbing much of the carbon dioxide from our atmosphere to slow down global warming. Over half the world’s people live in the coastal zone, and over 140 million tons of food from the ocean are part of the global diets. But pollution, over-fishing, and destruction of fragile habitats continue to threaten this cradle of our global life.

The Sea is an important part of Jewish tradition. According to the Torah, the formative experience of our nation was escape from slavery through the parting of the Red (or Reed) Sea, and seafaring made its way into biblical stories from Noah to Jonah.  In Israel, the big salt sea to the west is the Mediterranean, but Israel’s lakes are also called “seas,” from the freshwater “Sea” of Galilee (in Hebrew, Ha-Kineret, the harp-shaped lake), down the Jordan River to what we call in English the Dead Sea (known in Hebrew as Yam Ha-Melach the Salt Sea). Our Sages borrowed the Greek word “Okeanus” for Ocean. Spiritually, the Sea can be a symbol of birth or destruction, a place of depth, mystery, and power.

 

Dive into this Gateway of The Sea to explore the symbolism of oceans, seas, and lakes in our tradition and in our lives.

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Gallery of the Seashore in Israel

Cellist and humanitarian Yo-Yo Ma speaks about the “edge,” the natural or cultural place where environments intersect, as one that always has more life forms and new life forms. Bach taught him to balance going to his center and to the edge. In cultural...

Winter at the Beach

Gazing at the waves is meditative and calming, especially when you have the beach to yourself on a crisp winter morning. Beach at Cape May South Meadows, New Jersey (The Nature Conservancy), Video by JHD, January, 2017  

The Sea in the Bible

The great German Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig said that we relate to and experience God in three ways: Creation, Revelation, and Redemption. The Hebrew Bible (Tanakh)'s depictions of the Sea encompass all three themes, and add one that he left out: destruction....

As the Sands on the Shore

כִּֽי־בָרֵ֣ךְ אֲבָרֶכְךָ֗ וְהַרְבָּ֨ה אַרְבֶּ֤ה אֶֽת־זַרְעֲךָ֙ כְּכוֹכְבֵ֣י הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וְכַח֕וֹל אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־שְׂפַ֣ת הַיָּ֑ם I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand upon the seashore. --Genesis 22:17 The...

Voices of Many Waters by Nava Tehila Ensemble, Jerusalem

מִקֹּל֨וֹת ׀ מַ֤יִם רַבִּ֗ים אַדִּירִ֣ים מִשְׁבְּרֵי־יָ֑ם אַדִּ֖יר בַּמָּר֣וֹם יְהוָֽה׃ Above the thunder of the mighty waters, more majestic than the breakers of the sea,  majestic on high is YHWH. -Psalms 93:4 From Nava Tehila, Jerusalem community for Jewish Renewal...

Gallery: Mediterranean Sea in Israel in Spring

The Mediterranean Sea in Spring, Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael and Habonim-Dor Nature Reserve, by Daphna Rosenberg. Learn a blessing on seeing the sea, or return to the Gateway of The Sea.

A blessing on seeing the Sea

  It's a Jewish spiritual practice to say a berachah, a blessing, when experiencing an awesome, beautiful, or startling sight (or sound like thunder, or delicious scent) in nature. When I suddenly get to that first view of the ocean, I always catch my breath at...

As the Sea fills a Cave

Rabbi Joshua of Sachnin said in the name of Rabbi Levi, "To what should we compare the Tent of Meeting [that Moses set up in the desert]? To a cave on the seashore. When the tide rises and the sea floods the cave, the sea is not diminished. Thus the Tent of Meeting...

Moroccan Jewish “Song at the Sea”

The Song at the Sea, Shirat Ha-Yam, Exodus 15, with a classic Moroccan-Jewish Melody. Performed by Rabbi Hillel Hayyim Lavery-Yisraeli. Learn more here. Learn about the Parting of the Red Sea, or return to the Gateway of the Sea.

Splitting the Sea with Wind

Picture the splitting of the Reed (or Red) Sea. Based on the movie versions, we tend to visualize Moses raising his staff, so that the waters part instantly—supernatural special effects! But the Torah (Exodus 14:21), offers a more naturalistic depiction of the...

Two Seas: Giving and Receiving

There is an old parable about two seas in Israel, one fresh and one very salty. One, the Sea of Galilee, in Hebrew is called Yam Kinneret  יָם כִּנֶּרֶת‎ in Hebrew, because it is shaped like a harp, kinor. This freshwater lake teams with fish and is ringed by rich...

Ocean Breathing

I learned "Ocean Breath" from a wonderful yoga teacher, Marcia (Me-esha) Albert, at the original Elat Chayyim retreat center in Accord New York (now incorporated into Isabella Freedman retreat center). Based on yogic foundations, this breathing technique takes a...

Gallery: As Above, So Below

I am captivated by the reflections of sky in a lake,* especially when sky and water seem to merge. On a spiritual level, it reminds me that in each of our souls is a reflection of the divine, the tzelem Elohim. We can perceive the reflection of what is "above" most...

Torah as Coral, Coral as Torah

We have heard the expression "Sea of Torah." But how about Torah as coral? Part One: Torah As Moses came down the mountain with the Ten Commandments carved on two stone tablets, he found the people worshiping a golden calf. As recounted in Exodus 32:19, Moses threw...

Tikkun Olam: Saving Our Seas, Saving Us

Famed oceanographer Sylvia Earle explains that just a few decades ago, human beings imagined that the world's oceans were so vast, there was no way that humanity could harm them. The ocean was seen as bottomless basket of resources for humanity, providing us with...

Refugees at Sea: Can we help their waters part?

Our Jewish redemption story centers on a rescue at sea. The parting of the Red (or Reed) Sea as described in the book of Exodus is the paradigm our own people's redemption from ancient slavery and oppression, remembered in our prayers and holiday observances...

Sharing Circle: The Sea

What is the meaning of The Sea in your life? Do you live near a sea, ocean, or lake, or visit often? Which one(s)? Do you go there for healing, spirituality, adventure? Have you ever lived through a flood or other natural disaster (or helped to rebuild) and what was...