Rabbi Shapiro explores ideas to help reconnect with our water selves


Jessica White | Staff Writer

On the sixth day, God created man out of water and earth.

Does that make water our ancestor?

That is a question Rabbi Rami Shapiro had never thought about before he was asked to speak during Chautauqua’s water-themed week. After several weeks of academic, personal and spiritual investigation, Shapiro answered: Yes. Water is an ancestor of people, and people should treat it with the same honor and respect they would give their mother or father.

“In a sense, we are the way that water becomes conscious,” he said. “But we take it for granted. We pollute it, and we treat it as an object to be exploited rather than a part of ourselves that should be honored.”

Shapiro will look at water from a Jewish, spiritual perspective at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the Hall of Philosophy. He will discuss the idea of mitzvah, a Jewish religious duty or act of kindness, and how people — including non-Jews — can use the idea to reconnect with their water selves.

“Water is both metaphorically and biologically essential to our very existence, but we often forget that,” he said. “And when we forget our connection to water, I think we then misuse the actual water on the planet.”

Though Shapiro has been teaching for years, he said the topic is almost as new to him as it will be to his audience. He said he is excited for the discussion, and that he plans to continue exploring the topic when he leaves Chautauqua.

Shapiro is an adjunct religion professor at Middle Tennessee State University and the director of Wisdom House, a center for interfaith study, dialogue and contemplative practice at the Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville. He is an award-winning author, poet and essayist, having written more than 20 books on religion and spirituality. He also blogs and writes a regular column for Spirituality & Health magazine called “Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler.”

Shapiro grew up in a Jewish household, but he said his spiritual journey began when he was 16 years old. He studied a number of eastern and western religions and returned to Judaism in his 20s. The next thing he knew, he was building a career based on sharing his faith with others.

For Shapiro, religious teaching is about fostering spiritual awakening and growth, but it is also about fun. He said he was thrilled when he received the invitation to speak at Chautauqua.

“For me, giving talks is a kind of play,” he said. “You get up in front of an audience and share your ideas — and I’m not trying to make jokes, I’m trying to share something from God. But it’s the same idea; it’s a kind of play, and I’m at that stage in my life where play is the most important thing that I do.”