Of Woodcutters & Water Carriers

On the eve of the High Holidays I have to admit that I am excited. I know that during this time more Jews will reconnect to each other, their Judaism, and their inner selves than at any other time of the year. Regardless of where they are the rest of the year, they know that they are welcome back to the synagogue during the High Holidays. While one could bemoan their estrangement from the religious life as well as from the entire Jewish community the rest of the year, I choose to bask in the simple pleasure of their company at this time. I strive to live in the national myth of meeting up with my fellow pilgrims on our way up to Jerusalem to bring our festival sacrifices. The High Holidays are a time when every Jew feels a calling to come back to the Jewish community.

I like the idea of this sort of open invite. This idea of inclusion finds resonance in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim. We read, “You are standing today, all of you…from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water.” (Deut 29:9-10) Every Jew was included in the renewal of the covenant, regardless of his or her socio-economic situation or the variety of his or her religious/ritual commitment. But, what can we learn from the Torah’s specifying the woodcutter and the water carrier?

Without falling into some Augustinian ditch, I wanted to offer one of many answers to the framing of our collective mythology in these terms. When Adam and Eve took from the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil they established themselves as the first people to cut from a tree (Genesis 3:6). The consequence of which was that for the rest of time we would have to work the land to get food. As we see in the second passage of the Sh’ma (Deuteronomy 11:13- 21), Gcd limits rain as a means of regulating our behavior.  If Adam and Eve were the woodcutters, by following Gcd’s will the Israelites became the water carriers. The problem created by that first chopping of wood would not simply be solved by working the land. We also needed water to face the challenge of survival.

Even if we do not agree with the reward and punishment theology inherent in the Sh’ma, I find it meaningful that we, all of us across time, are part of a collective. Regardless of how many times we show up, all of us need to own the problem and work toward the solution. As we gear up for the High Holidays, I look forward to basking in the myth of our collective and to also taking responsibility for the past and the future. We cannot just look back and try to wash away an “original sin”. We all sin all the time. What trees has our generation cut down? Will a future generation figure out how they will bring the water? Our environmental issues today are not so original.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Shabbat Shalom.

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2 Responses to “Of Woodcutters & Water Carriers”


  1. 1 Shalom Orzach September 16, 2009 at 10:22 am

    I liked this idea and think it is strengthened by the מחטב צציך עד שואב מימיך “From the woodcutter till to water drawer.”The from and To seem to indicate opposite poles in the community, but yet both would be difined today as laborers so why the from to. One answer is beatiflly reflected in your piece.

    Shana tova!

    Shalom


  1. 1 More on Woodcutters and Water Carriers « Said to Myself Trackback on September 8, 2010 at 6:22 am

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