T

hat very first step, as a toddler places one foot on the ground, and then, arms waving to keep balance, sets down another foot, is unforgettable. Two steps, three, and bump, Baby is on the floor. But a moment later, he’s up again, tottering forward as he tries to keep his balance.

Imagine if we tried walking on ground that was unsteady and constantly moving. Those who have experienced tremors or earthquakes know the terror: The ground literally ripples beneath you, and you lie on the floor, riding the wave, as the world you know is overturned.

Every day, when we say the brachah roka ha’aretz al hamayim, we show our appreciation that the ground beneath us is secure and steady.

Rav Alexander Mandelbaum in Aromimcha Elokai Hamelech offers a basic understanding of this brachah. When Hashem created the world, He stopped the waters to allow room for dry land to be formed. This brachah is written in the present tense, as Hashem is constantly stopping the waters from flooding the whole world. Just seeing pictures of a tsunami drives home to us how much we need this constant protection.

Every day we thank Hashem for the miracle of dry land, of having a firm foundation on which to exist. As we say this brachah, we can be mindful of every level of kindness we experience, even the ground underfoot.

 

Firm Boundaries

The entire chapter 93 of Tehillim, as the Malbim notes, is an affirmation of the power of water and of Hashem’s direct providence on the oceans at every moment. “Mikolos mayim rabim, adirim mishberei yam, adir bamarom Hashem — More than the roar of the many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, are You mighty on High, Hashem.”

Rabbeinu Bechaye in Kad Hakemach draws a powerful lesson from this description: Just as the waters obey the will of Hashem without any deviation, we need to follow suit. From the crashing waves we learn to find clarity in following Hashem’s will, as well as appreciating the boundaries and limitations of our own desires. We start our day, and this brachah gives us a moment to reflect: At times our avodah is to subsume our own wishes before Hashem’s will, just like the waters of the world did when dry land was created.

Ask people to name a relaxing setting, and many will choose the beach or the seashore. We can sit and watch the waves for hours; doing so has a magically calming effect, and we come away feeling at peace. Rav Schorr in Halekach V’halibuv explains that the waves are so calming because they’re a part of nature untouched by mankind. Somewhere deep inside, a person is drawn to the power of the Divine, and is even mesmerized by it.

But it goes further, explains Rabbi Bernstein in Laboker Rinah. It’s the very breaking of the waves that gives a person a sense of inner peace. The sight shows us clearly that the world operates within a system — when waves reach the shore, they crash, and then retreat. There’s order to the universe. The sense of security this provides brings us to a place of calm.

In saying this brachah every morning, we can tap into this insight. Hashem continually “lays out the world upon the waters.” He ensures the waters don’t flood the earth, there’s discipline in the world. Of course, this is true on a micro level as well: Every moment of our individual lives is directed by Hashem. He’s intimately involved in all aspects of “laying out our world” every moment of our day.

The ability to see the orchestration from Above, the ability to realize that every moment the earth rests upon the water is a miracle, enables us to appreciate an insight of the Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk in Noam Elimelech. In describing the Jews crossing the sea at Kri’as Yam Suf, the pasuk states that the people went “b’toch hayam b’yabashah — in the sea on dry land.” After they cross, we’re told the people went “bayabashah b’toch hayam — on dry land in the sea.” What’s the reason for this change in language?

Once the people had experienced walking through the sea on dry land, their perspective was drastically altered. When they reached dry land, they appreciated that they were really walking on dry land that was spread over water. In reality, all of life is a miracle. There is no real difference between the splitting of the sea and walking on dry land.

Imagine taking a moment and focusing on the fact that our whole existence is miraculous, direct from Hashem, each time we said this brachah; our appreciation of Hashem and our lives would dramatically change.

 

Moving Forward

There are three types of chein, inherent beauty, the Gemara teaches (Sotah 47a). A woman is beautiful in the eyes of her husband, a city has charm for those who reside there, and an object one acquires carries a beauty.

This sense of beauty does not follow the conventional understanding of beauty. There are deeper forces that draw a person to this particular person or item, like a magnetic pull. Indeed, the Gemara notes that 40 days before birth, a heavenly voice announces whom a person is going to marry and where they will live.

When a person is drawn to a certain person or place, his deeper self is resonating with this bas kol, notes Rav Wolbe. Rabbi Fordsham in L’fanav Naavod explains that Hashem orchestrates the world in this way, to make it seem as if we are the ones in control, when really everything has been planned and arranged long before we are born. Hashem does this to ensure that the world continues to thrive and move forward.

We know that everything that exists in the micro world exists in the macro world. Hashem is not only moving our individual lives forward, He’s moving the entire world forward as well. Just as He is involved in ensuring the continuation of our lives, He is involved in the continuation of humanity. This brachah is a reminder that just as Hashem continually sets the earth on the waters, He is continually involved in setting our “earth” in the places it needs to be to continue to flourish.

 

Wellsprings of Life

In the language of Chazal, water has symbolic meaning; most commonly, it refers to the life-giving waters of Torah. The Gemara in Chagigah 12b states, “Woe to the creatures who don’t realize what the world stands on.” The Maharal (Be’er Hagolah 6) explains that these pillars holding up the world are none other than the Torah and those who learn it.

This brachah reminds us that the only reason the world is able to exist is in the merit of those who devote themselves to learning and living Torah. The brachah enables us to enter the day with a clear understanding of the reality: The world rests on Torah.

The next time we say this brachah, let us close our eyes and feel the ground underneath us. Let us be filled with gratitude for the blessing of security that Hashem endows us with each moment of the day. Let us feel the blessing of Hashem orchestrating our lives, with the realization that every moment is a living miracle.

Let us then be inspired to follow the lead of the water to direct our needs to follow the Will of Hashem, learning to curtail our overflowing desires, and instead use our energy to dedicate ourselves to lives of learning and living Torah, the ultimate waters upon which the world rests.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 613)