The Rambam, in the beginning of Hilkhot Avoda Zara, describes how Avraham, who was born and raised in a pagan world, arrived at monotheistic belief and began debating the people of his time and preaching the truth of this belief. We make poetic mention of Avraham’s efforts to disseminate the truth of monotheism in the tefilat geshem prayer on Shemini Atzeret, when we beseech God to remember “the patriarch who was drawn after You like water,” adding, “derashto be-zar’o al kol mayim” – “You sought him out when he planted along all waters.” The image of Avraham “planting” likely refers to his effort to “sow” the belief in God among the people of his time. These efforts are what prompted God to “seek him out” – to forge a special relationship with him which has continued ever since through his descendants.
Rabbi Simon Dolgin (“The Enduring Seed”) finds it significant that the hymnist emphasizes Avraham’s planting “al kol mayim” – “along all waters.” The point we are making in this prayer is that Avraham “sowed” the seeds of faith everywhere, in every location he could. Rabbi Dolgin writes:
We note that the Lord sought him out because he planted his seed on all waters. It made no difference to Abraham where it was, a rivulet or a lake, a river or a sea, he planted his seed. Whether he was in the land of his father, Terach, in the Euphrates land, or in the strange country of Canaan, whether he stood before Pharaoh or Abimelech, he continued to sow his seed of faith in One G-d. Whether the climate was moderate or torrid, desert or oasis, Abraham planted the seeds of monotheism, faith in one G-d, a father of justice and mercy. Before all oncomers, he represented his noble ideal.
Understanding the vital importance of his campaign, Avraham pursued and seized every opportunity to spread his word. It did not matter whether he was with a large group of influential figures or with a lone, simple peasant; he worked to “sow” his “seeds” along every bit of “water” – wherever he saw the possibility of the seed’s growth and development.
Rabbi Dolgin proceeds to observe how this legacy of “al kol mayim” has been carried by Avraham’s progeny:
The greatest tribute to Abraham’s dedication is the fruit that his seed has borne, a people that still invokes his name in petitioning the Heavenly Father for His blessing, a people that has continued to sow the seeds of its faith and way of life, of its Torah and the duties of its heart in all climes and on all bodies of water – at times in temperate lands where Jews were welcome, at times in desert lands where Jews were rejected. The test of the effectiveness of Abraham's faithful sowing is the blossoming faith of his seed into an eternal people which still serves the Gd who sought him out.
We perpetuate this timeless legacy by following Avraham’s example of steadfast determination, by working tirelessly to “sow” his spiritual “seeds” at all times and under all circumstances. Like our patriarch, our commitment to the Almighty must be manifest “al kol mayim,” under all conditions, even in periods of hardship and challenge.