Posts Tagged 'Fish'

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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