The environmental news coming out of the Gulf of Mexico is not very good. Weeks into the discovery of an oil leak in the Deepwater Horizon underwater oil rig, British Petroleum (BP) is still scrambling to contain the damage. Initial efforts to repair the exploded rig have failed, and oil continues to gush into the ocean at a rate of hundreds of barrels an hour.
The environmental impact of the oil spill cannot be understated. More than 400 species of wildlife along the coast are threatened by the spill. Bacteria in the ocean that break down oil, working in overdrive, are using up all the available oxygen, leaving nothing to support life at the deepest levels of the oceans. Environmentalists fear that miles of the underwater ecosystem may soon become a dead zone.
According to Chassidic teachings, the Torah consists of three dimensions: The revealed Torah, the hidden Torah (Kaballah) and the mystical part of Torah (Chassidus). These three dimensions are compared, respectively, to water, wine and oil.
The unique property of oil is that it absorbs. While water dries up, evaporates, oil permeates. Study of the revealed aspect of Torah is an intellectual pursuit, which can remain abstract. Chassidic teachings, though, become absorbed within our essence, part and parcel of our reality. We cannot study Chassidic teachings without being changed, transformed thereby.
But the oil must remain channeled. When its wells burst forth, unchecked, the oil can cause vast destruction, snuffing out the undersea creatures that depend on water for survival. The mystical teachings of Torah must be approached with humility; lacking this, G-d forbid, the life-giving force of Torah is thwarted. As our sages say, “If one merits, it becomes an elixir of life. Otherwise, it is an elixir of ...”
How do we ensure that the study of Torah has its desired effect? This is when Torah study is preceded by prayer. The first Holy Temple was destroyed, our sages say, because “They did not bless the Torah first.” Before studying Torah, we must first thank and acknowledge the giver of Torah. In this way we assure that the oil of Torah becomes not an agent of destruction but an agent of blessing.
How the oil spill will resolve itself remains to be seen. But through prayer and humility we can prepare ourselves as fitting vessels to receive the Divine oil—an endless source of blessing and inspiration. As the waters clear we will merit an infinite revelation of G-dliness in the Messianic era, “as waters cover the ocean bed.”
Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover is chairman of the Center of Magnetohydrodynamic Studies and Training at Ben-Gurion University.