3 Teves 5782 / Tuesday, December 07, 2021 | Torah Reading: Vayigash
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Fishin' for the Truth    

Fishin' for the Truth

Marge said, “Something deep inside is telling me that each person has a reason to live.” It had be to more than saving some fish from extinction...


This is a true story, as told to me by my friend Judy.  


“Judy, WAKE UP. This is an emergency!” Marge shouted directly into my ear. 


“What’s the matter?” I realized quickly that I would not be able to get any more sleep. 


“Those poor fish in that pond will die if we don’t save them. This is our chance to do something meaningful with our lives.” Marge was in a panic about a near-by fish pond that was being drained. With great care, Marge and I managed to save one large fish from death.  


We kept the fish in the bathtub, but it kept jumping out. We realized quickly that we needed a better solution in order to save this fish – one that didn’t include 24-hour guard duty. I decided to drive it to my parents’ home some hours away from our university, since they had a fish pond.  


We had an eventful drive north to my parents, including the tub of water overturning when I had to slam on the brakes to avoid a truck that cut me off. We managed to refill the tub at a nearby gas station, while Marge was screaming and crying that the fish might die on us in the meantime.  


Thankfully, the fish made it, and we arrived on Friday afternoon, less than an hour before sundown. My parents had mentioned about how they had met a rabbi and had started keeping something they called Shabbos. I assumed that it was some fad to keep them busy while they went through their mid-life crises. 


I opened the front door and saw my parents racing around like two madmen. I looked at Marge and whispered, “I’ll put the fish in the pond and we’ll stay out of everyone’s way.”  


Looking back at that first Shabbos, I realize now how difficult it must have been for my parents as they tried to find their way in the spiritual desert of Northern California. They tried to share their enthusiasm for keeping Torah with Marge and I, but we were far more interested in the fate of our fish than with the fate of our souls. 


But still, when I heard Dad sing “Shalom Aleichem" with George and Roberta (George and Roberta were my parents’ pet cockatoos whom my father had taught them how to sing Shalom Aleichem every Friday night), I felt something that I couldn’t define. Today I realize that I had sensed kedusha - holiness. 


Of course, Mom’s food was delicious - even if it was kosher. I even partook of her homemade gefilte fish with gusto, without thinking once about the fate of the poor fish that gave its soul for my gastronomical pleasure. 


As fate would have it, my parents’ synagogue had planned a special melava malka (meal after the Sabbath ends) with a well-known guest speaker. My parents asked us if we would join them and, for lack of anything better to do, we agreed. 


For me, that evening was the beginning of something that I can only describe as revolutionary. Perhaps it was the combination of the Rabbi’s inspirational words after having experienced the beauty of Shabbos, or maybe it was the result of a vague feeling of emptiness that had been slowly gnawing at my insides. After all, Marge did have a point when she said, “Something deep inside of me is telling me that each person must have a reason to live.” I just couldn’t imagine that that reason was to save some fish from extinction. 


Soon I made a point of coming home to spend every Shabbos with my parents. I enjoyed those Saturdays so much that with a few months, I, too, became hooked on Shabbos. 


A year later, we found our fish floating upside down in my parents’ pond. But by then, I was not terribly upset. I had come to the conclusion that my purpose in life was far greater than just saving fish from extinction. 


And what happened to Marge? Last I heard, she was crusading to save the whales. But I really haven’t had much time to stay in touch with her. I’ve been much too busy taking care of my even-by-Israeli-standards large family. And no, I never named any of my sons Fischel. 

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