The ocean surrounding Bermuda is turquoise, like a piece of rippling jewelry melting into white gold sand. I’m on vacation with my family in my sophomore year of high school, and we are learning how to scuba dive. We start the first lesson in the hotel pool; we learn how to put on all of our equipment, how to breathe through the mouthpiece, and how to signal to the instructor underwater. When we are finally ready for the ocean dive, I am surprised by my sudden fear.
Is it the depth of the upcoming dive that is scaring me?
Is it the depth of the upcoming dive that is scaring me? Am I afraid that I will forget how to breathe correctly, and that I will panic when I’m so far below the surface? Or is it the heavy oxygen tank on my back that makes me uneasy? The hardest part of that first dive is the instructor’s insistence that the best way to begin the dive is to fall backwards off the boat. “Just let go of the ladder, and fall.” I look behind me at the sparkling waves lapping against the boat, and I worry that my goggles will become foggy or too loose. But then I let go, and fall.
I move further and further under the water, as I focus on keeping my breathing calm and steady. Finally I reach the floor of the ocean, where other members of the group are swimming beside a cluster of purple, yellow and blue coral reefs. Schools of tropical fish of every shade of the rainbow swim beside me. An enormous sea turtle appears from behind one of the reefs, and I almost forget to breathe.
It is magnificent, like a creature that has just emerged from a storybook. When I look up towards the surface, the light is dancing above us and flowing toward us like beams of gold. How could all of this have been here right below the surface? Here is this world full of creatures and colors and shades of light, and I hadn’t ever known about it. I stand frozen in awe upon the ocean floor. Hundreds of fish flow through my arms, and I want to laugh. But I need to breathe, so instead I wave to the massive turtle peeking in and out of the reefs.
Every now and then we go scuba diving again, and each time it is a little less frightening. We swim among the glowing creatures in Hawaii’s ocean depths, and dive with the fish in Florida. On a dive in Israel, my children and I swim with dolphins. They swim under us and above us in graceful lines. And they play with each other like racing toddlers.
Here is this world full of creatures and colors and shades of light, and I hadn’t ever known about it
With the instructor’s permission, I reach out my hand to touch one of the dolphins. Its skin is tough and smooth at the same time, like cool, gray rubber. And then the instructor picks up a tiny creature from the floor of the sea and places it right above my hand. There it floats and swims in the arc of light from above us. And I look at my children swimming beside me, like the miniature miracles that they are. We are all breathing and focusing, and moving through the depths of this magic. And I wonder, if I didn’t see it myself, if I would believe that there is this whole other world right below our own, and that nothing looks or feels the same there. There are different rules. Different creatures. Even breathing itself is different there. And that is when I begin to understand that scuba diving lessons teach us more than just how to breathe and signal and put on our tanks. They teach us how to live above the surface too.
Falling backwards off a boat with a heavy oxygen tank requires trust. You have to trust the instructor. You have to trust that the equipment will work. It reminds me of rappelling on a summer tour in Israel. There we were, in the Golan Heights, literally at the edge of a hundred-foot cliff. The guides seemed to know what they were doing as they set up the ropes and the hooks and the harnesses. But when you are about to push off the edge of a cliff with just a rope in your hand and a harness that seems inadequate to the task of actually supporting you, you are scared. It’s hard to let go and ease our way down the cliffs in our lives.
We need to put on the tank for it to work
Scuba diving teaches us a crucial level of faith. It’s not the faith that we won’t ever fall. It’s not the belief that it will never be dark or confusing. It’s the trust that G‑d is equipping us with tools that work. His tanks don’t run out of oxygen. His ropes that He offers us contain infinite strength. But we need to put on the tank for it to work. We need to take in the oxygen of His Torah. We need to reach out for the ropes of simchah and wisdom, in order to maneuver our way through the darkness. This is one part of Adar’s depths: believing that He gives us the strength and the tools to deal with adversity. Being able to fall backwards with trust; being able to believe that even though we don’t know why, we have to fall. And He never tells us to let go without throwing us a rope. Without placing Esther in the palace. Without setting Mordechai up by the gate. He is the instructor telling us over and over again, “Just let go of the ladder and fall.”
Once we fall, we begin to see that the surface was, in many ways, an illusion. There are so many layers as we dive. We are meant to search. Even the physical body has multiple layers that we so quickly forget. That is why most of us are taken aback for a moment when we look at an x-ray or an ultrasound. That is what it looks like in there? It is astounding how many parts of our bodies need to work just so we can breathe. And there are layers of meaning in words, in ideas, in everything that we do. In our current reality, we are like divers still standing on the boat staring at the surface of the water. But there are worlds above and below, and even within us, that we can’t—or choose not to—access. Adar is a special time to access some of these layers beneath the surface of our lives. Let the rainbow of fish swim through your arms. Wave at the sea turtles. Reach out your hand to touch the dolphins. Learn to play again. And then, watch the light that dances on the surface above; it looks different when you move beneath it. You can see how things sometimes look upside-down, how often they look one-dimensional. But they look that way only when we’re sitting on the boat, wondering why we can’t see a thing.
There are worlds above and below, and even within us, that we can’t or choose not to access
And when we jump off the boat and through the depths, we will eventually reach the ocean floor. When we are actually standing upon the ocean floor, we can’t forget to breathe. We can hear ourselves breathe. We focus on the inhale and the exhale. We watch the bubbles rise upwards. We can almost hear the echo of our own heartbeats. It is so silent down here. Each creature is a gift to our eyes. We are accessing another level of joy that allows us to reach Adar’s depths: mindfulness. Noticing and focusing just on the moment in front of you. Rav Miller, of blessed memory, spoke about this idea extensively:
When you take in your hand that glass of crystal-clear liquid—that wonderful elixir of life, a miracle combination of two gases—think about what a miracle it is. Can a person drink gas? Drinking a tank of oxygen and a tank of hydrogen would not do you any good. Yet, here you have this wonder combination of chemicals, and as it goes down your throat it transforms all the organs, tissues and fluids in your body . . . That is how I drink a glass of water! . . . When you live that way, then all your life you’re singing a song of happiness . . .” (Rav Avigdor Miller, On Emunah and Bitachon, p. 166)
This focus on what we are holding in our hands is an essential key to true joy. Not thinking about yesterday, or even one hour ago. For a moment, not planning the rest of the day, the week, the month. You see each creature and each color. You hear the swish of water and the gurgle of bubbles rising all around you. You’re beginning to sing the song of happiness.
We are accessing another level of joy that allows us to reach Adar’s depths: mindfulness
And when you climb back onto the boat, and take off your tank and your goggles and your mouthpiece, you gulp in the air and stare in confusion at the surface. Where did all the fish and reefs and sea turtles go? From where you are standing, you can’t even see their shadows. But you remember. It’s Adar. “Let go of the ladder and fall into the water.” Trust that He can hold you in the depths. Search beneath the surface to find His treasures. Know that there are worlds hidden in worlds hidden in worlds. And listen to the sound of your own breathing. To the echo of your heart. To the joy that was always there, waiting for you to stop so that it can swim through your arms like beams of light splitting into a million rainbows. Arching their way from this world to all the hidden worlds. Breathe in. Breathe out. Keep diving, until this world and the world above are one.