Like a Fish Getting Water

In one of the most popular songs that comes from the Torah, we read in “Hamal’ach” (48:16) how the descendants of Yosef should be ‘many, like fish’. A common interpretation, mentioned in Rashi and the Gemara, is how the blessing means to stress the ease and ability to procreate- to multiply like fish. While there are other meaningful interpretations, one less-quoted explanation provides a fundamental lesson:

‘Just like a fish develops and lives in water, yet when there’s a drop of rain, they get it in thirst as if they’d never tasted water, so it should be with the Jewish people and Torah: Even once they’ve grown up immersed in its study, if they hear of a new idea in Torah, they shall drink it with thirst, as if they had never heard Torah in their lifetime’ (Bereishit Rabbah 97:3). Plugging this interpretation back into the verse, we may understand that the “rov” (“many”) of the fish is not a reference to their (and by extension, the Jewish people’s) offspring, but rather their water (and Torah). Despite their many previous studies, any new one remains precious to them.

 

Oftentimes we view Torah as we do any other subject or textbook- as a finite compilation of information for us to digest, or download. But the truth is that the study of Torah is an attitude, not an achievement. It entails the thirst of wanting to be close to Hashem by seeking His guidance. When we view Torah simply as a download of information we may come to look back at all the Torah we’ve learned and become satisfied, thereby neglecting anything else that might come our way. But when seen like a new, fresh love letter from Hashem, when we find another resource to learn or study something new, we jump at the opportunity for more Torah, thirsting for anything that brings us more sustenance, like a fish getting water.