I feel a bit of a letdown when we, during sefiras haomer, leave off from davening “mashiv haruach u’morid hageshem” in the Amidah. Those words have always touched me, evoking how HaShem’s spirit hovered on the face of the waters at the beginning of His acts of creation.
Our rav, Rabbi Aaron David Lebovics, gave a beautiful mussar lesson on this change in the davening and on the difference between dew and rain. (Any mistakes in transmission are mine.) Rain, he said, is easy to be grateful for. It’s impressive and exciting. It comes all at once, often with thunder and lightning. It’s impressive and exciting. Dew, on the other hand, is easy to ignore. It happens early in the morning when people are sleeping, and it doesn’t require us to change our shoes or add a raincoat to our wardrobe. But in fact, he taught, we should be more grateful for the dew. Because it’s so reliable, we can take that for granted. We should take time to express gratitude for the everyday blessings of our life as much for the extraordinary, if not more so.
Day to day, those of us who live in developed countries don’t think too much about the fact that we can turn on the tap and safely use the water that comes out. We mostly take it for granted, but it’s a blessing many people don’t have. In fact, around one-third of people on Earth don’t have access to reliably clean drinking water. I found that statistic so staggering when I heard it.
Of course, in Israel, one notes the rain, the level of the Kinneret, and so on, and to some extent, that happens in drier parts of the world. Learning more about the miracles that have happened in Israel since 1948 really got me started thinking about my family’s water from an ecological (rather than financial) standpoint in late 2015 when I was reading the book Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World by Seth Siegel. In 1930, the British used the scarcity of water to limit Jewish emigration. Less than 100 years later, Israel is a world leader in a whole range of water creation, conservation, and reuse technologies. One can see HaShem’s guiding hand in how Israel has made sure its citizens have enough water and, in fact, is able export water and technology to other parts of the world. (I reviewed the book here.)
Of course, it doesn’t take cutting-edge technology to turn a faucet, so the core of my family’s water-saving measures is simply running less water. I didn’t grow up in a family that was careful about this, so it did take me a while to remember to turn off the tap while I brush my teeth and wash my face. Luckily, my kids followed my husband’s lead on this and are great about only using water to wet their brushes and then to rinse.
Showers are another matter! Showers generally use less water than baths, but the gallons still add up quickly at 2.5 gallons per minute, especially with larger families. What’s worked for us is to put a smart speaker in the bathroom so each member can set a timer that will let them know when it’s time to wrap the shower up. We shoot for between five and seven minutes, which is shorter than the average American shower. (The kid who would stay in the shower until there wasn’t any hot water left was not a big fan of this request, so we negotiated a longer time for that child than the rest of the family. Changing family habits is always about negotiation and buy-in.)
In the kitchen, a dishwasher uses less water than washing by hand. At the moment, we don’t have a dishwasher, but we’ve certainly made hand-washing less wasteful by starting to wash the dishes as soon as we turn on the water, rather than waiting for the washtub to fill and rinsing dishes in batches rather than one at a time. I’d say I use about half the water I previously used for washing a tub of dishes. My friend Rivky in Ramat Beit Shemesh reports that washing dishes with the water off is the normal order of business.
A few years ago, I asked my husband to install a rain barrel on the balcony where I have my container garden for vegetables and herbs. (This, of course, necessitated several trips to the hardware store plus quite a bit of time finding a smaller rain barrel that wouldn’t weigh too much when full. Luckily my husband is very good-natured because many of my best low-waste ideas involve making work for him.) I have twenty large planters on the balcony. By diverting some of the rainwater that runs off my roof and into my gutter, I’ve completely eliminated using water from pipes to water them throughout the growing season. Hopefully, he’ll stay good-natured because this year, I plan to add another rain barrel to water our yard and flower beds!
Some of the things I loved most from Let There Be Water were examples of what Siegel calls Israel’s “water-respecting culture,” such as families scooping water out of the bathtub to water plants. I haven’t gotten to that point yet, but maybe I will at some point. For now, I use the abandoned cups of water my family (and I too, admittedly) leaves around the house to water houseplants. If the inside plants don’t need the moisture, I pour the water outside so it can go back into the water table without an unnecessary detour through a water treatment plant, as it would if I dumped it down the sink.
We’re so close to finishing counting the omer and preparing for Shavuos. On Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending a program at my daughters’ school that, along with an inspirational talk, included great tips for flower arranging and making cut flowers last longer. Baruch HaShem for the clean, fresh water that will keep our flowers fresh as we celebrate the amazing gift of receiving the Torah at Har Sinai!
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