Safety at Sea

The sea can be very beautiful, but it can also be very dangerous. The sea could be quite terrifying to sailors on a ship battling its way in mountainous waves, in the midst of a howling gale and lashing rain. At such a time nothing is more welcome to these sailors than the glimpse of a light from a lighthouse, telling them that land is near.

But this is not the only purpose of a lighthouse. The approaches to many harbors are often made dangerous by reefs and rocks, against which a ship might be dashed to pieces. Some lighthouses are built especially to warn against such dangers.

In Ancient Days Men have used some form of lighthouse since most ancient times. Some of the oldest known lighthouses guided sailors along the Mediterranean coast; These usually consisted of metal baskets filled with burning coal or wood, hung from poles on top of towers. A lighthouse built about 2300 years ago on the island of Pharos near Alexandria in Egypt was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Its warning light could be seen many miles out to sea.

The Romans built lighthouses at many of their ports. After they conquered Britain, they built lighthouses on both sides of the English Channel, at Dover and Boulogne, to guide ships crossing the channel.

Lighthouses Today

Modern lighthouses are built at ports and harbors, and on isolated rocks. Most lighthouses are tall, round, stone towers, narrow at the top. Others are made of iron frames. The tower lighthouses have rooms one above the other, connected by a winding stairway. The keepers often lead lonely lives, and many writers have described their faithfulness and heroism.

The tall structure of a lighthouse, standing firm and immovable in the midst of swirling, angry foam, with its background of jagged rocks, is a magnificent sight. Few, however, realize the task and effort of building a lighthouse, and the complicated mechanism, which enables it to send out its light beam with unerring accuracy and unfailing message.

The Lantern

The lantern, which houses the light, is a most important part of the lighthouse. It contains the lamp, the source of light, and the lens. The light is made to flash by a revolving lens around the lamp. Part of the lens is blacked off by a screen so that the light is hidden for several seconds each time the lens revolves. The lens and lamp are sheltered in a glass and steel enclosure called the "lamp room." The lens is equipped with many prisms to make the main light stronger.

Lighthouses give out various types of light. Some beam a fixed, steady light; others give out a flashing light. In some cases the flashes of light last as long as the dark periods, or longer; in other cases the periods of darkness are longer; in still other cases two or more flashes are followed by several seconds of darkness, and vice versa. In this way lighthouses are made to send out their particular message.

Range of a Lighthouse

How far can the light of a lighthouse be seen from the sea? It depends on various factors, but mainly on two basic things: the strength ("candle-power") of the lamp, and the height at which it is placed above sea level.

It is clear that a stronger light can be seen at a greater distance. But even the strongest light has its limitation because of the curvature (roundness) of the earth's surface. Just as when looking out to sea, one cannot see beyond the horizon (where heaven and earth seem to form one curved line), so land cannot be seen from the sea if it is hidden by the horizon. Obviously, the higher the landmark is, the greater is the distance from which it can be seen. Thus, a light placed five feet above sea-level can be seen by a sailor, standing on the deck of a vessel fifteen feet above water, at a distance of seven miles. The same light placed twenty-five feet above sea-level can be seen 10 to 17 miles away; fifty feet above sea-level-12 to 55 miles away; one hundred feet above sea-level -15 to 91 miles away; one thousand feet above sea-level-40 to 72 miles away.

There is, however, a disadvantage in placing a light very high up because of fog. Fog very often hangs some distance above the sea, while the sea itself is quite clear. It is therefore not always practicable to fix a light in a very tall tower, for a fog blankets even the most powerful light.

History of a Famous lighthouse

One of the most famous lighthouses today is the Eddystone, which stands on a dangerous group of rocks in the English Channel at Plymouth, off the Devon-shire coast. The location rings a familiar bell, for it was from here that the Pilgrims sailed on the Mayflower in 1620, and landed at Plymouth, Mass.

The Eddystone has in interesting history. It was first built in 1698. The builder, Winstanley, a whimsical man; thought his lighthouse indestructible. He proclaimed boastfully that he wished to meet in his tower "the greatest storm that had ever was." His wish Was granted. In November, 1703; the most destructive gale in England's history broke loose. It wrecked some 150 ships; and it also swept away the Eddystone lighthouse, with its crew, and Winstanley himself.

Eddystone's second lighthouse stood through the Atlantic winds for 46 years. Then it was destroyed by a fire.

The next tower was built by an engineer named Smeaton of interlocking stone blocks. It stood Steady for more than a century, before the waves ate away its rock base. The top of the tower was then moved to The Hoe, the city's most famous bowling green.

The present Eddystone Light was completed in 1882. While the beacon in Smeaton's light came from 24 six-pound candles (which. had to be replaced, periodically, when they burnt out), today's electric light provides 750,000 candlepower. The Eddystone lantern is 133 feet above the water.

In, North America, one of the famous lighthouses is at Minot's Ledge in Massachusetts. Well known are also the iron skeleton towers on the Florida Reefs. The most powerful lighthouse in the U.S.A, is the Navesink lighthouse at the entrance of New York Harbor. Its lamp has a strength of 9,000,000-candle power.

Eternal Light

Life on earth has often been likened to a voyage into strange and unchartered seas, full of perils and storms. There is the well-known story told by our Sages, of people gathered to send off a ship on its maiden voyage. The crowd was jubilant, music was playing. At another wharf in the harbor an old, weather-beaten ship had just come in, and no one seemed to notice it. Remarked a wise man observing, the crowd: "How foolish people are! They are rejoicing with the new ship going out to sea, though they do not know how well it will fare in the stormy seas, and are giving no attention to the ship that had already weathered the storms and come back laden with precious goods." Such is human nature, the Sages explained the above story, that they rejoice with the birth of a new baby, forgetting the grave dangers and pitfalls which the newborn child will have to face in life; but they do not feel the same way when an old person comes to the end of his journey, bringing in the "ship" safely into harbor, laden with Mitzvoth and good deeds.

If wise men have always realized the need to provide guiding lights for ships at sea, certainly G‑d has provided an eternal and never failing light to guide men through their life's journey. It is the Torah, which is called Toras Chayim, the "Torah (meaning 'guide') of life." It is also called Torah-Or , "Torah Light," because it illuminates the darkness, and, like a lighthouse, warns against dangers and shows the right way to safety and security in the shelter of G‑d.

Lighthouse Keepers

Together with the Torah, the Divine Lighthouse, G‑d provides every generation with faithful "lighthouse keepers," to see to it that the lighthouse send out its message and help, especially in stormy times.

There is a well-known passage in Tehillim that speaks of people "that go down into the sea." They are mentioned among four groups of people who have been through serious danger and have therefore to be particularly grateful to G‑d for having enabled them to come through. The four cases are: release from captivity, recovery from serious illness, crossing the sea safely, and crossing the desert. On the basis of this, our Sages have ruled that the Brocho HaGomel has to be recited, to thank G‑d for "bestowing good upon the unworthy." It is called "Bentching Gomel," and it is done in the synagogue, at the reading of the Torah. The person recites the Brocho: "Blessed art Thou, O G‑d, King of the Universe, Who bestoweth good upon the unworthy, for bestowing good upon me." The congregation responds: "He Who bestowed good upon thee, may He bestow all good upon thee forever."

The passages referring to seafarers reads:

They that go down into the sea in ships, who do work in stormy waters; they see the work of G‑d and His wonders in the deep.

(Psalms 107:23)

The famed Baal Shem Tov (whose birthday occurs on the 18th day of this month of Elul), the founder of Chasidus, interpreted the above passage in its deeper meaning, as referring to the souls which come down to earth to live in a physical body, and in a material world. The soul faces grave dangers in the "stormy waters" of the material life, which may alienate the soul from its Father in Heaven. Some of them get into trouble. (The Hebrew word "B'Uniyos" - "in ships" - may also be rendered "in trouble" - as in Isaiah 29:2; Eichah 2:5). But to help these troubled souls, G‑d sends down other souls "to do work in stormy waters." They act like keepers of lighthouses and lifeguards who bravely go out into the stormy waters to rescue people in distress. Then both "see (truly understand) the work of G‑d and His wonders in the deep."

Such a "lighthouse keeper" was Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, whose birthday, like that of his spiritual "grandfather" the Baal Shem Tov, also occurs on the 18th of Elul. He was named Shneur (shnei or - "two lights"), because he was destined to illuminate Jewish life with the double light of the Torah, the "outer" light and "inner" light (chasidus). During his lifetime, and forever afterwards through his saintly books and teachings, Rabbi Schneur Zalman has been one of the greatest "lighthouses" in Jewish life; a great lifesaver especially in the turbulent times of the last two centuries, and the days ahead.