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Eysh u’mayim, fire and water

Rabbi Ari Moffic

March 4, 2022

We are at the end of Exodus this Shabbat. The portion is called Pikudei which means records and refers to the records of the tabernacle. A list of the materials used for the building of the Tabernacle or Mishkan are explained.

The end of the portion includes the famous imagery of the cloud by day and the fire by night which would come over their structure. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting if the cloud was over it because God’s presence was imminent. When the cloud lifted, the Israelites would set out on their way.

In our own Mishkan at TBE (our smaller, intimate sanctuary in the round) the beautiful chandelier in it of colorful blown glass represents this biblical image. Next time you are at Temple, take a look at it.

Cloud and Fire. Evaporated water and fire. Think now to our creation narrative in Genesis. On the second day of creation, God separated the water into an entity above and one below. Heaven/sky and sea and earth became distinct. The rabbis asked, what is this heaven above?

“Eysh u’mayim, fire and water. The Holy Blessed One scrambled them together each in the other and made from them the heavens.” אש ומים Eysh u’mayim becomes שמים shamayim (heaven) the letters themselves combining to make something new out of these essential elements.

Fire and water combined? Water puts out fire. We see God in impossibilities. We see God in the magnitude of the natural world. Water and fire are both signs of life. They can both be powerful enough to cause death. We are at the mercy of the elements, yet we use these natural elements in our Jewish rituals.

We can imagine the ancient Israelites looking for signs of God. They gazed up. They surveyed around their camp and into Israel. They had to have been filled with awe and fear. And yet, how vulnerable we still feel. With all of our scientific advances, we are still yearning for signs. Thunder at night (perhaps this was the fire we read about in Torah) and ominous clouds can make our hearts race.

We pray to God above, God within, God of Wonder, God of dichotomies, to bring peace, bring a calm to this storm brewing in our world. Let our prayers for peace inspire us to act as partners with God. God looks to us as we look to God.

Tue, June 18 2024 12 Sivan 5784