Sign In Forgot Password

The universe, fluid and volatile

I hate to swim. 

The feeling of being suspended in water, nothing solid within reach, is deeply unnerving. I like to know that something reliable and dependable is nearby as waters that can drown me swirl all around. 

It not just in our aquatic lives, but our emotional and spiritual lives as well, that we look for something solid. We want to know that there is someone, something we can lean on when we are not strong.

Businesses make money reassuring us that they will be there, like a good neighbor, when times are rough. Politicians get elected by telling us they are the strong leader we need in these turbulent times. 

Of course, real stability is an illusion. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "There are no fixtures in nature. The universe is fluid and volatile. Permanence is but a word of degrees."

The thundering line from our liturgy, "מחדש בכל יום תמיד מעשה בראשית / The Holy One creates anew every single day the works of creation" is at once beautiful and terrifying.

Every day erupts with the fertile possibility of dynamic growth; every day holds the cold reality that the things we love will not, cannot last.

Some of this fear and uncertainty gripped our ancestors who waited at the foot of the mountain as Moses ascended for his tête-à-tête with the Divine.

"When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron and said to him, "Come, make us a god who shall go before us, for that Moses, who brought us from the land of Egypt--we do not know what has happened to him." (Exodus 32:1)

When we arrive at the limits of what we know, we commit idolatry. We need certainty and so we conjure it, even when it is absent, particularly when it is absent. 

We do not know what has happened to Moses, so we build an idol to reassure ourselves. We do not know what our lives hold, we do not know if our faith is warranted, we do not know anything. So we grab the illusions of certainty we can - in our checking accounts, in our health, in our ideologies.

In a world of fluidity, we insist that we see permanence; in a world of movement, we insist things are as static as a golden calf that we can touch and feel. 

Yet what truth there is in the world cannot be named, much less touched. "I will be that I will be," says the Holy One, when pressed to give a name. The Divinity of the world is endlessly fluid, and every attempt to preserve it betrays it. 

We betrayed it when we said that God is a golden calf and we betray it when we say anything beyond "God is."

Sometimes - often times - our choices are to sit with the uncertainty or to blaspheme.

One of the three cardinal obligations that a Jewish parent has is to teach their child to swim. To swim in waters that are so beautiful, so terrifying, so necessary. Don't pretend it's solid; learn to swim in the water.

I find the water terrifying, because it is so fluid, so unstable, so dangerous. And it is. It is also the source of life, and of such beauty.

Wed, May 25 2022 24 Iyyar 5782