Posts Tagged 'Blessing'

Weird Fish: The Blessing of Diversity

According to National Geographic Animal Encyclopedia, all fish share two traits: they live in water and they have a backbone—they are vertebrates. Apart from these similarities, however, many of the species in this group differ markedly from one another. Fin fish like salmon have gills, are covered in scales, and reproduce by laying eggs. Eels, by contrast, have worm-like bodies and exceedingly slimy skin. Lungfish gulp air. Whale sharks, the largest fish, give birth to live young and eat only tiny fish, squid, and plankton. Some species, the Blobfish, see below, are so bizarre they seem almost unreal. Here is a list to the 20 weirdest fish in the world.

Fish have developed special senses, too. Because water transmits sounds, disperses chemicals, and conducts electricity better than air, fish rely less on their vision and more on their hearing, taste, and smell. Many can detect motion in the water using a special row of scales with sensors known as the lateral line. Others can find their prey and even navigate by detecting electrical charges.

One reason fish are so diverse is that 70 percent of the planet is covered in water. They live in a variety of habitats ranging from coral reefs and kelp forests to rivers, streams, and the open ocean. The variety of fish is also due to the fact that fish are very old on the evolutionary scale. According to fossil records, they have been on Earth for more than 500 million years! The total number of living fish species—about 32,000— is greater than the total of all other vertebrate species (amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals) combined.

I was thinking about the diversity of fish when reading Vayahi, this week’s Torah portion. There Yaakov is at the end of his life and blessing his children and grandchildren. There we read:

And he blessed Yosef, saying, “The God in whose ways my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, The God who has been my shepherd from my birth to this day— The Messenger who has redeemed me from all harm— Bless the lads. In them may my name be recalled, And the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, vayidgo- And may they be teeming multitudes upon the earth.”

Genesis 48:15-16

What is this vayidgo– teeming about? On this Rashi quotes the Gemara:

vayidgo-– like fishes (דגים) which are fruitful and which multiply and which the evil eye cannot effect (Berakhot 20a).

Rashi on Genesis 48:16

Why fish are beyond the glare of the evil eye, is a conversation for another day. The simple meaning is that they should be blessing with descendants that are teeming like the fish of the sea. This gives new meaning to God’s blessing to Avraham: “I will bestow My blessing upon you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore; and your descendants shall seize the gates of their foes.” (Genesis 22:17) From the shore to the sea. This is evocative of the male Jawfish from the Philippines, see blow. This species is a “mouthbreeder”. After they mate the female lays the eggs in the males mouth.

Genesis 22:17

While we could just stay there and see that our number is the blessing. I think there is something else being conveyed in this blessing. The blessing is not just to have the numbers, but also to have the biodiversity. Like the fish of the sea, the people of Israel should be blessed to behold the divinity of diversity and the dignity of difference. We are an ancient people, but we are still evolving. We should never shy away from being weird.

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Good Riddance

At the start of this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Bo, we hear God instructing Moshe to go to visit Pharaoh to warn him of the plague of locusts. It is curious that God does not tell him to go, rather, to come to Pharaoh. We read, “God said to Moshe, ’Come to Pharaoh, for I have made his heart and the heart of his servants stubborn so that I can put these signs of Mine in his midst.’” (Exodus 10:1). It is even more confusing for Moshe who grew up in the house of Pharaoh assuming the Pharaoh himself was a god. What does it mean that God might be with Pharaoh?

This question gets even more complicated next week in Beshalach. There we see that it is Pharaoh who sent the Israelites from Egypt and God that did not allow them to take the most direct route to the Promised Land. Is it possible that Pharaoh has the power to release the Israelites and God is the obstruction?

It is clear that God is everywhere, and that Pharaoh is not a god. But it is still challenging to think that God stands with evil or next week God gets in the way of a clear path toward justice. It would have been much easier for Moshe to exact the plagues against Pharaoh, his court, and all of Egypt without having to be reminded that God is to be found in evil people. Even if Pharaoh is evil he can be a source of redemption. We are all created in the image of God. Evil when confronting injustice we must be reminded of the divine potential of the oppressor.

Moshe loyally follows God’s directions, but that does not absolve him from having to navigate his own moral compass. Yes, we need to find a way to speak truth to power. In life’s journey, we can never forget our sense of direction. If we forget this, we will not know if we are coming or going.

Pictures Show Donald Trump Leaving the White House for the Final Time As  President

Like many others I am relieved and even thrilled that we had a peaceful transition of power and Trump is gone. In the spirit of this lesson we contemplate the good in saying, “Good Riddance”. He is no righteous person, but still he deserves a blessing. I am reminded of something my Oma used to say, ” Gehe mit Gott, aber geh! – Go with God, but please do go”.

Repugnant Cycle

In VaEra, next week’s Torah portion, we read about the beginning of the Ten Plagues. I want to focus on the first two; the water turning into blood and the proliferation of the frogs. In both cases, the Torah informs us that there was an odor. In regard to the first plague we read, “The fish-life that was in the River died and the River became foul” (Exodus 7:21) and in regard to the frogs we read, “They piled them up in heaps and heaps, and the land stank” (Exodus 8:10). The emancipation of the Israelites could have happened in many different ways. It seems that Egypt suffered the plagues to teach them, if not us, the readers, something about the horrors of slavery. What can be learned from these smells?

The Midrash explains that Egypt was punished with this odor, measure for measure, for how repugnant they found the Israelites (Exodus Rabbah 10:10). Did the Israelites smell bad? At the end of Shmot, this week’s Torah portion, Moses came to Pharaoh to ask if the Israelites could go on a holiday outing. Instead of a celebration in the wilderness, Pharaoh increased the burden upon them by maintaining their quota of brick production while cutting their supply of straw. Frustrated by their increased work load they came to complain to Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “HaShem look upon you, and judge; because you have made our very scent to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants” (Exodus 5:21). Prior to this decree they were slaves, but they could at least take pride in the fruit of their labor. After the decree their perception of themselves became a reality.  It seems that the last straw was not the limited supply of straw, but the degradation of working all the time and not being productive.  They felt worthless and smelly.

But, maybe there is another way to see the Midrash that explains that the odor is measure for measure. Back in the stories in Genesis we read about when Rebecca helped Jacob steel the blessing from Esau. There we read:

And Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come closer, so that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esau or not.”So Jacob drew near to Isaac his father, and he felt him, and he said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.”And he did not recognize him because his hands were hairy like the hands of his brother Esau, and he blessed him. And he said, “Are you [indeed] my son Esau?” And he said, “I am.”And he said, “Serve [it] to me that I may eat of the game of my son, so that my soul will bless you.” And he served him, and he ate, and he brought him wine, and he drank.And his father Isaac said to him, “Please come closer and kiss me, my son.” And he came closer, and he kissed him, and he smelled the fragrance of his garments, and he blessed him, and he said, “Behold, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field, which the Lord has blessed! ( Genesis 27:21-27)

Isaac is blind, but not stupid. We get a sense from the text that he knows that something is off. This is not Esau. It is as if he is Little Red Ridding Hood trying to figure out where her grandmother is, Isaac is trying to figure out if this is Esau or Jacob.  Jacob is unable to imitate Esau’s voice, but between the costume, feel of his hands, food, and drink he passes for Esau.  In a simple reading it was his smell that convinced Isaac.

Jacob stole the blessing by deceiving with smell, before the Israelites are worthy of redemption from Egypt their odor is exposed. The Israelites are shamed measure for measure.  In turn the Egyptians are shamed measure for measure. When people speak negatively about us, we are embarrassed. What have they exposed about us? What has been exposed about themselves?  What starts with the desire for blessing and affirmation expands out to cycle of shame and violence. There are powerful lessons here about the cycle of bullying- it does not smell very good.

– This post is linked to others on synesthesia

Blessing the New Year

It seems funny ending Genesis ( as we do this week) so close to a time when so many people on this planet celebrating a New Year. We just got started and we are ending.  Or is it just starting the next chapter? It seems that for many 2011 was less than a stellar year. So I am sure many of us are looking forward to  a brand new start. As we will read next week, that is the subject of the portion of Shmot.

In parshat VaYechi, this week’s Torah portion, we see Yaakov giving blessings to his children. It is hard to see this outside of the context of the other blessings in the Bible. Most notably the blessing Yaakov himself got (stole) from his father Yitzhak. But this is different. In most of the cases it is the charge of parent to a child in their youth as to their destiny and life path. As compared to a blessing to someone in their adolescence who is looking for guidance and direction in this week’s portion we see grown men getting blessings. It seems to be an eternal truth, we all yearn and seek parental affirmation regardless of our age, station, or accomplishment.

Just as Genesis comes to a close and we see the family come together for their blessings, I had the pleasure of spending the New Year together with my family. It is an amazing time to see the cousins play. It seems timeless to share the pleasures of good food and fun activities with family. It is also a time to reflect on how we have progressed as parents, partners, and also children. I have been so concerned with how am becoming a better parent ( as evident by this blog itself) that I am rarely consciously reflecting on how I am as a child. I spend so much energy thinking about the blessings I want to give my children, I do not spend enough time reflecting on the blessings I have already been given by my parents, let alone the ones I still hope to get.

As I am now hyper-conscious of being a parent it has become apparent that the gift of a blessing is not in the receiving, but in the giving.  It is a great gift to see the hidden potential in someone else and label it. That is what it means to bless something. Blessing is a mini- revelation. Giving a blessing in many ways is the prize of ascending to Sinai. We are all Israel in that we are struggling with who we are becoming, what a blessing to have it revealed, let alone to reveal it?

 


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