Holy Water?

Water on a flower

“If there be magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” – scientist Loren Eisley.

I’ve always wondered why there was no special bracha (blessing) in Jewish tradition for water. Water is the source of life, I thought. As Eisley says, “Water…its substance reaches everywhere; it touches the past and prepares the future.” Water is magic. So where is its special blessing?

Last week The Onion published its “green issue” (an “all-paper salute to the environment,” of course). One of the news briefs on the inside cover titled “EPA Didn’t Know Anybody Was Still Drinking Water” said:

“I can honestly say we had no idea that anyone used faucet water anymore,” Johnson said. “Bottled water, sure—I have some here on the lectern. But if there really are people out there still drinking tap water, all I can say is you’re better off not knowing what’s in there.” Johnson added that official EPA policy is that American should stick to sports drinks.

The article reminded me of the movie Idiocracy, a social commentary that posits a man who, as part of a military experiment, “hibernates” for 500 years to awake to a future in which he is the smartest person on the planet. Society has been so dumbed down that they think they must water their plants with a sports drink and not water, which is in fact killing all the plants. Our hero must convince the champion wrestler-turned-President of the United States that plants must, in fact, be watered with water, in order to save the world.

Similar to the piece in The Onion, this film emphasizes the idea that we often forget about the basics. We are so caught up in fancy bottled water and sports drinks that we forget about the simple tap—and our rivers, lakes, streams, oceans.

As I wrote before, I don’t understand why there’s no special bracha for water like there is for fruit, and bread, and wine. Why does water get blessed as “shehakol” – the blessing used for everything that isn’t already assigned a specific blessing (like meat, milk, and chocolate)? A teacherrecently told me that “shehakol is the backbone of Judaism” – but I couldn’t take notes fast enough while she was talking, and now I don’t remember what she said. So really, the point of this whole post is to ask, why doesn’t good drinking water have its own blessing? And what does “Shehakol is the backbone of Judaism” mean?

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6 Responses to “Holy Water?”

  1. Rachel B. Says:

    Good question, Leah, I often think about that. I did a program at my shul once on Simcha Beit Hashoeva, the water holiday during Sukkot and wondered that same question. Water has other special powers in Judaism, though, it imparts ritual purity – think mikvah and washing our hands al netilat yadayim.

    About shehakol, the blessing, shehakol nihyeh b’dvaro, means that everything in the world was created by God’s word – which is one of the foundations of Judaism.

  2. Leah Koenig Says:

    Thanks Rachel – but the question is my wonderful co-worker Eli’s (see the byline) :)

  3. Adam Edell Says:

    I have often thought the same thing, Eli: why no special blessing for water? Surely our ancestors knew we would not be here without it. We certainly wouldn’t be having these discussions about organic and locally grown fruits and vegetables or kosher, pastured beef and chicken if there weren’t any fresh water to supply our crops and animals. We think critically about the food we’re putting into our bodies, which are about 3/4 water, but how often do we think about the quality and replenishment of our water sources?

    Here in California, wildfire season is in full swing, due in part to declining rainfall over the last few years. In addition, as we enter August, residents will be asked to cut back on water consumption, and we’re expecting food prices to increase as a result of water scarcity. Are we treating water like the precious, yes, holy resource it is?

    I would like to invite readers to submit their blessings for water, to formally recognize its inextricable and holy place in our lives and ecosystem…I’ve been trying to find some meaningful words each time I pour a glass, take a shower, give the garden a good drink…

  4. Eli Winkelman Says:

    Thanks for the comments, Adam. I look forward to seeing people’s water blessings!

  5. Yisrael Medad Says:

    Why should there be a special water blessing? There’s one blessing for bread, although there are several types of flour, one for grains & cereals although there are five. There’s a blessing for wine and grape produce and another for every other type of drink. How many blessings do we need?

  6. Eli Winkelman Says:

    I would say that water is much more than just a drink. As pointed out by Adam, it puts fires out, it supports our other forms of food, it makes up most of our bodies…

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