The Song of the Fish

"The voice of the Compassionate One is upon the waters, the God of Glory thunders; the Compassionate One is upon vast waters." (Psalm 29:3)

"The voice of the Compassionate One is upon the waters" Within biblical writings, teach our sages, "water" is often used as a metaphor for the life-giving Torah, as it states (Isaiah 55:1), "All who are thirsty, go to the water." (Tanna Devei Eliyahu 18:78)

Dear Friends,

The song of the fish has a special relevance to humankind, for the Prophet proclaimed to the Compassionate One, "You have made the human being like the fish of the sea" (Habakkuk 1:14). A sage of the Talmud Rav Yehudah in the name of Shmuel therefore asks: "Why are human beings compared to the fish of the sea?" The sage replied: "To tell you that just as the fish of the sea die immediately if taken onto dry land, so too human beings die immediately when they separate themselves from Torah and mitzvos." (Avodah Zarah 3b)

Torah is the life-giving knowledge of the Compassionate One, and it leads to life-giving deeds known as "mitzvos." Why, however, does the sage state that human beings die immediately when they totally separate themselves from Torah and all mitzvos? Don't we find corrupt and wicked people who manage to live long lives on this earth? The Iyun Yaacov commentary explains that such individuals become "spiritually" dead. As in another tractate, the Talmud teaches that there are wicked people who in their lifetime are called "dead" (Brochos 18b). Nevertheless, those who have become spiritually dead should not feel that their situation is hopeless. For example, during the era of the Prophet Ezekiel, the sinners of Israel cried out, "Since our sins and our iniquities are upon us and we are wasting away because of them, how can we live?" (Ezekiel 33:10). In response to this lament, the Prophet proclaimed the following message of the Living One:

"As I live - spoke my Master, the Compassionate and Just One - I do not desire the death of the wicked one, but rather the wicked one's return from his way that he may live!" (33:11)

Such a person should therefore drink the waters of Torah, as our sages teach: "Just as water is life for all human beings, so too, Torah is life for all human beings." (Tanna Dvei Eliyahu 18:74)

According to Jewish tradition, the Torah contains certain life-giving teachings and mitzvos which are relevant to all human beings; thus, during the messianic age, the peoples of the earth will journey to Zion in order to study and fulfill these teachings and mitzvos, as it is written:

"Many peoples will go and say, 'Come, let us go up to the Mountain of the Compassionate One, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.' Because from Zion will go forth Torah, and the word of the Compassionate One from Jerusalem." (Isaiah 2:3).

All human beings will be drawn to Torah, for just as fish need water in order to live, so too, human beings need the universal teachings and mitzvos of the Torah in order to live. And in the messianic age, all human beings will find life in the "sea of Torah":

"They will neither injure nor destroy in all of My sacred mountain; for the earth will be filled with knowledge of the Compassionate One as water covering the sea bed." (Isaiah 11:9)

Have a life-giving Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)

Related Teachings and Comments:

1. The Talmud tells the following "fish" story which took place during the Roman oppression of our people in the Land of Israel:

Once the wicked government decreed that the People of Israel were forbidden to be involved in the study of Torah. Pappus ben Judah came and found Rabbi Akiva organizing public gatherings and being occupied with the teaching of Torah. Pappus ben Judah said to him, "Akiva, are you not afraid of the government?" Rabbi Akiva gave the following parable as a reply:

A fox was once walking alongside a river, and he saw fish going in swarms from one place to another. He said to them, "From what are you fleeing?" They replied, "From the nets cast for us by human beings." The hungry fox said to them, "Would you like to come up on the dry land so that you and I can live together in the way that my ancestors lived with your ancestors?" They replied, "Are you the one that they call the cleverest of animals? Rather than being clever, you are foolish. If we are afraid in the element in which we live, how much more in the element where we would die!"

Rabbi Akiva then explained: "So it is with us. If such is our condition when we sit and study Torah, which is described as, 'your life and the length of your days' (Deuteronomy 30:20), then how much worse off will we be if we go and neglect the Torah!" (Brochos 61b)

2. The Hebrew word "mitzvah" is related to the Hebrew word "tzvas" a pair of tongs, an instrument which joins things together. For a mitzvah is an instrument which joins the human being to the Living One.

3. According to Jewish tradition, the Torah contains a universal moral code for all human beings; moreover, a human being who fulfills the teachings and precepts of the Torah's universal code will be worthy of the World to Come. An introductory essay to the universal moral code is available upon request. For further study, visit the "tzedakah" archive on our website, and review the following articles: "Tzedakah Activists Vs. Sodomites" and "The Mitzvah to be Human."

4. In my preparation for this series, I find helpful information in the following English books on Perek Shirah: "Nature's Song" by Rabbi Nosson Slifkin, Targum/Feldheim,

"Perek Shirah" The Song of the Universe, Translation and Insights by Rabbi Nosson Scherman,

Hazon - Our Universal Vision