Swimming in Today's Turbulent Seas
The Talmud teaches that "a parent should teach their child three things: Torah (The five books of Moses), a trade, and to swim. A few weeks ago, I thought about this teaching when I read about Walter Marino and his 12-year-old son, Christopher.
A rip current had swept them both out to sea. When darkness fell, the sounds of the searching rescue boats and helicopters grew fainter with each passing minute.
We can only imagine what it might have been like floating there in a life-and-death situation with our child. Certainly, we would have been terrified. But there were circumstances that made this frightening event more unusual. Christopher is an autistic child and his love of water and his "disability" made him unafraid of the circumstances, which threatened his life.
How did they survive? His father kept them afloat for over 12 hours. He shouted partial lines from Disney movies, which his son would then complete enthusiastically. This was one of their favorite things to do. Dad would call out: "To infinity," and his son would shout back: "And beyond!" They floated on their backs, gazing at the stars above, "To infinity and beyond!"
After they were rescued, Walter said he believes God saved them, and perhaps He did.
As Jews, we know that we are to learn our Torah because it makes us strong in our Jewishness. We also understand that we need to learn a craft because otherwise we could not earn a living. But, why did the sages teach that we must also learn to swim? The Talmud doesn't command parents to teach their children to walk. Why swim?
It's because we are out of our natural depths when we are in water. In water, we have nothing to cling to other than our own ability to keep our heads above the water. Christopher's "disability" ultimately saved him. The child's chances of survival increased because he could hear his father's calls. Because of Walter's strong love for his son, he was able to ask God for as much strength as he needed to ensure a miracle for both of them.
Each of us is swimming amid the turbulent seas that are our lives. We need to transform our struggles into added strength to overcome what is threatening us. We can look heavenward and realize with awe the infinity that is beyond. But, then we can gaze back to the ones we love the most and realize that we are swimming together. We can give each other the strength needed to overcome difficulties, and the help needed to hold on so that we can support each other as we help ourselves.
In this charged political climate and challenging economy, I would ask members of our community to seek a common ground by which we can support each other even when we have differing views. There are no easy answers to the difficult questions that challenge us.
Neither presidential candidate is as perfect as some claim nor as terrible as some might wish to portray.
If you are facing challenging personal circumstances, I would urge you to seek out your pastor, as our Houses of Worship are here to support our community.
If you don't have a synagogue or church, take the time to find a spiritual home that will help you anchor yourself and your loved ones. Take the time to pray with others. Utilizing traditional liturgy, or your own words, allows you the greater opportunity to feel God's presence surrounding you.
Cultivate God's love in your own heart and soul, extend that love to family, friends, neighbors and strangers, and you will feel God's love directed toward you a thousandfold.
B'Shalom (in peace).
Rabbi Mitchell M. Hurvitz is senior rabbi at Temple Sholom in Greenwich and the president of the Greenwich Fellowship of Clergy. E-mail: RabbiHurvitz@aol.com
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