An Embodied Spiritual Practice for Drinking Water

Water is a resource we tend to notice most when missing. In places where drinkable water isn't readily available, there is obvious meaning in the life-sustaining act of drinking water. However, in environments that enable people to take water for granted, drinking water can quickly become mundane. Drinking water may even be unpleasant for people who find water tasteless or boring compared to other beverages. What could it be like to uplift the act of drinking water — to make this mundane or unpleasant experience into something spiritual?

To start, let's check out the typical Jewish blessing over drinking water:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָֹה אֱלֺהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהַכֹּל נִהְיֶה בִּדְבָרוֹ:

Blessed are You, Eternal, our Divine, Majesty of the Universe, by Whose word everything came to be.

This is a beautiful blessing — and a common one. It's said over meat, fish, milk, eggs, cheese, mushrooms, AND all beverages except wine/grape juice! Yet isn't water unique? Not only is water the only substance that naturally exists on Earth in all three states (solid, liquid, and gas!), but it also stands out in Jewish tradition as a symbol of Torah itself:

מַה מַּיִם חַיִּים לְעוֹלָם... כָּךְ תּוֹרָה חַיִּים לְעוֹלָם...

מָה הַמַּיִם מְשִׁיבִין הַנֶּפֶשׁ... כָּךְ תּוֹרָה...

מַה הַמַּיִם מְטַהֲרִים הַגּוּף... כָּךְ תּוֹרָה מְטַהֶרֶת הַגּוּף...

Just as water provides life to the world... so too, Torah provides life to the world...

Just as water restores the soul... so too, Torah...

Just as water purifies the body... so too, Torah purifies the body...

Water, like the Torah itself, is naturally connected to life, soul, and body. We find this in several biblical stories, including the story of Hagar and her son Ishmael. After Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael away, Hagar runs out of water and cries as she prepares for Ishmael to die of thirst. But then something miraculous happens:

(יט) וַיִּפְקַ֤ח אֱלֹהִים֙ אֶת־עֵינֶ֔יהָ וַתֵּ֖רֶא בְּאֵ֣ר מָ֑יִם וַתֵּ֜לֶךְ וַתְּמַלֵּ֤א אֶת־הַחֵ֙מֶת֙ מַ֔יִם וַתַּ֖שְׁקְ אֶת־הַנָּֽעַר׃

(19) The Divine opened [Hagar's] eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the waterskin with water and hydrated the boy (Ishmael).

In a moment of rejection and distress, the Divine opens Hagar's eyes to nearby water. Water travels from Divine awareness to Hagar's eyes, and finally, to Ishmael's body. This divinely transmitted water saves Ishmael's life, and the Divine stays with Ishmael as he grows up into the father of a great nation (Genesis 21:20). Hagar and Ishmael's story embodies water's ability to provide life, enabling body and soul to connect with the Divine.

We, too, can open our eyes to life-saving and soul-nourishing water. Like Hagar, we can look at a child — our inner child — in need of water and be a conduit between the Divine and that child.

Here's a simple embodied blessing practice to do when drinking water:

1. If you're drinking water from a pitcher, faucet, or refrigerator water line, take extra care to listen to the sound of the water entering your cup. Ishmael's name comes from Yishma-El ("The Divine will hear"). What does your Divine spark hear?

2. Take your cup into both hands and hold it to your heart, inhaling and exhaling. Hagar lifts up Ishmael and holds him by the hand before giving him water (Genesis 21:18). We often hold warm drinks to our hearts, which can feel like the loving gesture of holding our inner child's hand. How does it feel to hold a "neutral" drink to your heart?

3. Bring your cup to your lips and drink, feeling the water travel from the cup into your mouth. You may choose to keep one hand on your heart while drinking with the other hand. Ishmael's water saved his life and enabled him to grow with the Divine. How does your water provide life and nurture your soul and body? How does it enable you to care for yourself and others?

The word "Torah" literally means "teaching". When you drink water, you enable your body and soul to share your teaching. Your teaching, like the Torah and water, can provide life and nourishment to others. May you drink and share blessings. Blessed is the Divine Giving of water and teaching.