Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
May 29th 2014 -Volume 4, Issue 32-29th of Iyar 5774
The Life of a Fish
So I sit in the dentist’s office. I hate dentist’s offices. Not dentists, just the endless wait until the usual lecture, tsk tsk, probing, and the bill. Let’s just get it over with already. And I stare at these fish. These rather boring toothless swimming creatures are starting to make my head spin. Maybe that’s what they're here for. To lull me almost hypnotically into a numb sense of unawareness of the amount of time I’m spending here and to relax my tensions into a smooth fish-like calm.
But I’m a Rabbi and always working. So I think about the relationship between fish and the Jew. No! Not just Gefilte fish, (they’ve started eyeing me suspiciously now) rather the very famous parable of our great sage Rabbi Akiva comparing the Jewish people to fish.
The Talmud tells us that after the destruction of the temple and the debacle that was the Bar Kochba revolt, the emperor Hadrian issued decrees prohibiting the study of Torah. Rabbi Akiva the great leader of the Jewish people however continued his lectures and teaching at the mortal risk of being captured and prosecuted for the “crime” of teaching Torah. When asked why he would risk his life for such an idle foolish thing like the study of these ancient works. Rabbi Akiva told the story of the fish.
A fox was once walking alongside a river, and he saw the fish going in swarms from one place to another. The fox said to them: "From what are you fleeing?"
The fish replied: "From the fishermen's nets that seek to trap me."
The fox slyly said: "Why don’t you join me here on the dry land away from the danger where we can dwell together” (he was also thinking gefilte fish)
The fish replied: "Are you the one that they call the cleverest of animals? You are foolish! If we are afraid and insecure in the water, in the environment that provides our very lifeblood, how much more afraid would we be when out of our element?"!"
Rebbe Akiva explained: "So too with us Jews. It is written: '[The Torah] is your life and the length of your days.' Without it we are like fish without water. We will surely “die”.
A nice parable, yet as in all of the Talmud’s stories there are even greater lessons that can be gleaned from examining the metaphor a little closer. Rabbi Zev Leff notes a unique characteristic of fish in water. He notes how interesting it is that although the fish are surrounded by water when it begins to rain, as the droplets hit the surface, the fish ascend to the top of the water in a frenzy, to hungrily receive yet another drop and another, never content with the endless supply of water that engulfs them. So, too, the Jew possess an innate drive never to be content with the status quo, but rather to hungrily ascend and acquire new horizons, new levels, in Torah learning and personal growth.
Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky notes another interesting thing about fish (too many Rabbis sitting around dentist’s office J). As per my observation that fish are rather boring looking creatures. That is however only true of fish that are in water. But have you ever seen a fish out of water? Many of us not knowing what was truly going on might observe that fish hopping, skipping jumping or as the vernacular might go ‘partying” and say
“Wow now that fish is really living! Look at him go! That’s a fish that really knows how to have a good time”
Yet for the more experienced fisherman amongst us we know that hat we are truly witnessing is a death. The last fatal desperate gasps for a life that can never be sustained without water. So too, is the Jew without Torah. That natural longing and drive for fulfillment can lead ones path to it’s proper realization through the more subdued life of consistent Torah study and the simpler small acts that will draw one closer to our Creator the source of life. Or it will unfortunately be drawn to that illusory perception of life and living, one that may have a very short term allure of the excitement and the party but yet ultimately is one that will never give that breath of life ones soul it so desperately is seeking.
This week we will celebrate the Holiday of Shavuot. It is the day, 3326 years ago, when all of us stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai and were gifted with the Torahs Chaim- the Torah of life. It is not a holiday that is celebrated with menorahs, sukkas, matzahs or any other symbolism. Rather it is holiday whose only symbolism is the Torah, its study and the Jew. The Torah is our life force, it requires no symbolism. All that it is necessary for us it’s incredibly blessed recipients, is to take a deep fresh breath for our soul and tap into it’s incredible wisdom that has sustained and preserved our people, for as long as fish can swim.
Have an amazing Shabbos and an inspirational Shavuot ,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S FISH QUOTES OF THE WEEK
"No good fish goes anywhere without a porpoise"-Lewis Carrol
"Remember, a dead fish can float downstream, but it takes a live one to swim upstream".-W. C. Fields
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
(answer below at end of Email)
Which one of these churches is not located in Nazareth
a) Church of the Wedding
b) Church of the Annunciation
c) Church of Joseph
d) Church of the Synagogue
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL GEMATRIA OF THE WEEK
On Shavuot perhaps the only ritual/custom of the day is that of eating dairy (hopefully cheesecakeJ!) Why?! Why not? The gematria (numerical value) of the Hebrew word for milk, chalav, is 40. We eat dairy foods on Shavuot to commemorate the 40 days that Moses spent on Mount Sinai receiving instruction in the entire Torah. (Moses spent an additional 40 days on Sinai, praying for forgiveness following the Golden Calf, and then a third set of 40 days before returning with a new set of stone tablets.)
The numerical value of chalav, 40, has further significance in that there were 40 generations from Moses who recorded the Written Torah, till the generation of Ravina and Rav Ashi who wrote the final version of the Oral Torah, the Talmud.
Further, the Talmud begins with the letter mem – gematria 40 – and ends withmem as well.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK
Grave of Rambam/Maimonides and.., Tiberias- It's always kind of bothered me that this great and much visited site is known only as the Rambam-that great early 13th century sage-'s grave. When in fact right next to the Rambam are many great sages that were indisputably greater and more significant than the Rambamas they preceeded him by over one thousand years. For example the great sage Rabbo Yochanan Ben Zakkai who pretty much singlehandedly saved Jewish life and Torah by getting permission from the Roman leader (Vespasian-ignore what I wrote last week by mistake that it was Hadrian..sorry about that blunder and thanks to those who pointed out the correctionJ) as well as his five students that Torah was built from and who form the core of the oral tradition Mishna as well as great sages from the times of the Talmud as well. The tradition of the Rambam who lived and died in Egypt being buried there goes back hundreds of year with the story being that Suleiman who was king did not allow the Rambam to leave Israel and upon his death the Rambam was placed on a camel which brought him to Tiverya where it stopped next to the graveof Rabbi Yochanan as a sign he should be buried there. Some suggest that it was because the Rambam and the other sages buried in Tiverya wished to be eventually resurrected in the city where our tradition tells us the Sanhedrin will once again be re-established. Along with the Rambam his father Maimon and his grandson Reb David Hanagid are also buried there. As well the 16th century sage Rabbi Yeshaya Halevei Horowitz known after his work the Shela Hakadosh is buried there as well (My wife's ancestor!). Many are familiar with his special prayer that was recited Erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan (Today!) for children. Perhaps most fascinating though is this great 14 arches edifice built on his grave that stands out and can be seen from all over Tiverya that corresponds to the 14 books of Law called the Yad (gematria 14) Chazaka- the powerful hand. What makes it so interesting is that Maimonides writes in his work "And righteous people do not have monuments built upon their graves for their words are their monuments….and one should not visit graves of the righteous" (Laws of Avel/mourning 4:4)..hmmmm talk about irony…
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK
FUNNY SHAVUOUS "STAY UP ALL NIGHT" VIDEO
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TERRIBLE FISH JOKES OF THE WEEK
What did the fish say when he posted bail? "I'm off the hook!"
Why don't fish like basketball? Cause they're afraid of the net
What do you call a fish with a tie? soFISHticated
What do you get when you cross a banker with a fish? A Loan shark!
What do sea monsters eat? Fish and ships.
Why do fish always know how much they weigh? Because they have their own scales.
What did the magician say to the fisherman? Pick a cod, any cod!
Q: How many tickles does it take to make an octopus laugh? A: Tentacles.
What was the Tsar of Russia's favorite fish? Tsardines!
What is a dolphin's favorite TV show? Whale of fortune!
What do you call a big fish who makes you an offer you can't refuse? The Codfather!
If you think of a better fish pun. Let minnow.
Men are like fish neither would get in trouble if they kept their mouths shut. Instead of a cat, buy your kid a fish. It's easier to flush
RABBI SCHWARTZ' S EXAM ANSWER OF THE WEEK
Answer is A: Yeah Nazareth is a pretty Christian city and even the beautiful Jewish section Nazareth illit has difficulty getting over the hurdle of that lousy non-jewish name….although in the times of the Talmud it was a Jewish city and all the J stories that take place there… he spoke in a synagogue they threw him out his parents lives there yadda yadda all take place there. The wedding though where he disobeys his mother (naughty boy) and turns water to wine or something like that takes place not far from there in Kfar Kanah a mostly arab village today..