on dry ground
Every year I get to visit the Kol Tzedek kindergarten class at Torah School to study the story of creation. I have developed a love of one method of telling the story using the tools of Godly Play, in which each day is depicted on a 4x6 wood card. And as I tell them about what was created on that day, I set the card out. Once all of the cards are lined up, we are invited to wonder about the days of creation. I always begin, "I wonder which day is most important?"
It is amazing to hear their answers. Their little bodies jumping off their shevet spots, eager to share which day they think is most important. Since this lesson is part of a unit about Shabbat, it might be easy to imagine that the hidden punchline is always that Shabbat is the most important. But that would be too prescriptive an approach. And speaking from personal experience, it wouldn't be honest. I find that my own answer changes year to year.
This year, I am personally captivated by the third day of creation, when the waters below the sky are gathered together revealing the yabasha - dry ground (Gen 1:9). This moment always invites me to reset my imagination, reminding me that all of existence was once water. That dry ground was not a given.
My love of the third day is not contained to the third day. It is because the creation of dry ground on the third day makes so many other biblical triumphs possible. Throughout the Torah, the presence of yabasha, dry ground, is a sign of real hope.
Most recently, we read the story of Jonah on Yom Kippur, in which the wayward prophet finds himself praying to God in the belly of a whale who then spits him out onto dry ground (2:11).
Perhaps most famously dry land appears in the midst of the sea as the Israelites fled from Pharaoh's army. The phrase b'toch hayam b'yabasha - in the midst of the sea on dry land actually appears three times in the Exodus story (14:22, 14:29, 15:19).
Dry ground also makes an appearance in this week's Torah portion. In the story of Noah the Holy One brings on flooding rains so that water once again covers the surface of the earth. But when the floodgates of the deep and the fountains of the sky were stopped up (8:2), the waters began to recede from the earth. Noah sends out a dove three times, until the dove doesn't return, confirming that the earth was dry again - יבשה הארץ - yavsha ha'aretz (8:14). And only then, does the Holy One instruct Noah to leave the ark.
The dry ground of the third day is a spiritual seed for so many other moments in Torah when dry ground will be needed. And it is also an invitation for all of us to remember, in the midst of our own overwhelm, that dry ground is possible. Sometimes it requires measured patience, as in the story of Noah. Other times we are forcibly hurled onto it, as in the story of Jonah. And yet other times, it miraculously appears in the moment we need it most, as it did for our ancestors in the Exodus story.
Each of these Torah stories invites us to trust that we will find our way to dry ground so that we can live a life of purpose and possibility. This is a key part of our spiritual journey. I would be remiss if I didn't also mention this is a key part of winning the World Series. To quote one sports columnist, "A key part of becoming a championship team is believing it and feeling it," Schmidt said. This week, the Torah boldly invites us to believe.
Shabbat Shalom and Go Phillies!
Rabbi Ari Lev
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