On our bus ride down to the Dead Sea, the tour guide promised nothing short of a series of medical miracles. Multiple minerals soaked in the waters of 2,000 years can cure almost anything that ails the body was the better portion of her description of this salty aquatic surprise. Considering that it was my hus-band’s first trip to Israel, I felt compelled to show him all the tourist highlights of this magnificent country. Having gone to the Dead Sea since I was 12, paint-ing myself in mud and floating above a pink rock salt floor, I knew this would be a fun adventure for him. The sea with no fish or life of any kind has grown into a massive industry of cosmetics and other related areas. One is almost as-saulted upon arrival at the airport with advertisements, media campaigns, chain stores from companies such as Ahava, Premier, Black Pearl, and other assorted brands of seemingly magical treatments enhanced with the minerals of this region.
Ziva Gilad, a spa technician, came up with the idea of marketing Dead Sea mud after watching women tourists scooping up the mud to take home. In 1988, a single stand selling bottles of Ahava body scrub to tourists earned $1 million. The Dead Sea Works is the world’s fourth-largest producer and sup-plier of potash products.
In 1989, an Israeli dermatologist tested the effect of Dead Sea salts on 50 pa-tients with psoriasis. Out of 50 patients, 47 of them (94%) experienced signifi-cant relief. Of course I bought four packs of mud from the day spa we visited to take home for myself and two friends who specifically asked for them (more like demanded!); the mud is a must!
As usual, I needed to find the Torah significance of this special place. After all, wasn’t this salt related to a place called Sodom, which would mean that as a result of the destruction of the most infamous city in the Torah came a beauty treatment.?... Quite odd or poetic!
The parched desert that now houses the Dead Sea or Yam Hamelach was once a fertile plain through which the Jordan River flowed, periodically flooding the entire plain and creating a lush green region.
From the Torah, we can identify that incredibly evil civilization as Sodom and its sister cities. The Torah relays their complete destruction as described in Genesis/Bereishis. Even Abraham’s prayers on their behalf were ineffective, and “G-d overturned these cities, and the entire plain.”
The formerly fertile area became a barren, salt-encrusted desert, and toxic sub-stances were released from the bowels of the earth.
Since Jordan’s waters began to collect in this deep area, it created a large lake with salt and asphalt, where no fish, organisms, or plants can live, thereby earning it the name “Dead Sea.”
Way before Ahava, the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra built cosmetic and pharma-ceutical factories in the area. Later, the Nabateans extracted asphalt from the Dead Sea and sold it to the Egyptians. The Egyptians used asphalt to embalm their dead. The word “mummy” or mummify derives from the Egyptian word for asphalt.
Herod the Great, who built several fortresses near the Dead Sea, most famous-ly Massada, created one of the world’s first health resorts for himself at the Dead Sea.
Ezekiel, the great prophet in his book of Neviim, foretold the day the Dead Sea will become a body of fresh water, and fishermen will spread their nets along its shore. Water will descend from the soon-to-be-rebuilt Holy Temple and flow toward the Dead Sea, and its water will be “healed” and sweetened. “But by the stream, on its bank from either side, will grow every tree for food; its leaf will not wither, neither will its fruit end; month after month its fruits will ripen, for its waters will emanate from the Sanctuary, and its fruit shall be for food and its leaves for a cure.”
According to chasidic teachings (as described on a Chabad website), the heal-ing of the Dead Sea has very important significances in kabbalistic terms. In the Book of Genesis (Bereishis) we are told that on the second day of creation G-d separated between the “upper waters” and the “lower waters.” The Mid-rash tells us that when this occurred, the lower waters wept: “We, too, want to be in the King’s presence.”
Mystically speaking, water is equated to the pleasure principles. There are two versions of pleasures; the “upper waters” are the spiritual pleasures used for the souls (neshamos) and angels that inhabit the upper world. The “lower wa-ters” are the earthly humanistic pleasures that exists within the physical world. The lower waters cry that they are restricted to the lowly pleasure of physical bodies that inhabit the lower world.
This bitterness expressed by the “lower waters” is symbolized by the bitterness of salt water collected of salty tears, specifically translated to the saltiest of wa-ter, the Dead Sea.
Perhaps G-d’s division of the two bodies of water was for us to heal the lower with prayers to G-d and observance of His will for His people, thereby con-verting the lower-realm tears from salty to sweet and, in doing so, bringing the fresh, flowing water of Torah to all of mankind. That’s a lot to think about as you are floating like a typical tourist in one of Israel’s fun and fascinating at-tractions or loading up on promotional Ahava products in the airport duty-free store!
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By Tobi Rubinstein
Tobi Rubinstein is a retired fashion and marketing executive of 35 years who currently produces runway and lifestyle events for NYFW, specializing in Israel’s leading artists and designers. She is the founder of The House of Faith N Fashion, fusing culture and Torah. Tobi was a fashion collaboration and guest expert for ABC, Geraldo Rivera, Huffington Post, Lifetime, NBC, Bravo, and Arise. She hosted her own radio and reality TV series. Tobi is a mother, wife, dog owner, and shoe lover.