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A Fish Out of Water

Translation by Yehoshua Siskin

Recently I arranged to meet someone and while waiting for her at the agreed location I noticed an advertisement on a sign that read: “Bacon Makes Everything Better.”

In this week’s Torah portion, Yaakov Avinu blesses his grandchildren, Ephraim and Menashe, with these words: “May the angel who redeemed me from all harm bless the youths, and may they be called by my name and the name of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, and may they multiply abundantly like fish, in the midst of the land." But wait just a minute. Does “may they multiply abundantly like fish in the midst of the land” make any sense? If Yaakov is comparing his grandsons to fish he should have said “may they multiply like fish in the midst of the sea.” After all, fish belong in water and cannot survive on land. So what is the meaning of this strange blessing?

The following explanation is found in “Sefat Emet,” a collection of Torah commentaries from Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter (1847-1905), a Polish Chasidic rebbe: “Yaakov is standing opposite his grandsons who are living in Egypt. Yaakov knows that it has been decreed that they, like their descendants, will often be like fish out of water. They will need to behave differently than those around them. They will need to constantly strive to preserve their spiritual independence, to live in a physical world but to maintain their connection with their spiritual source, the living waters of Torah that give them life. Yaakov prays that his descendants will not become confused, that they will not feel at home in places that are not appropriate for them, and that they will understand that this feeling of strangeness is part of his blessing.” For thousands of years, we have been surrounded by innumerable advertisements like the one for bacon and by a multitude of ideologies and cultures. We have been challenged by behaviors and lifestyles that directly contradict our ways of thinking and traditions. Yaakov blesses Ephraim and Menashe – and us, too – that we should be successful in meeting every challenge and prosper, even when we feel, at times, like fish out of water.


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