ESSAY: The Amphibian Soul
How does one walk on dry land, in the midst of the sea?
INSIGHTS: Agricultural Man
Life as a precarious investment, where ones capital
erodes significantly before returning a profit
A TELLING STORY: Reading Right
Its not enough to know which book to consult; one
must also know from which side it should be opened
The Amphibian Soul
And the children of Israel walked on dry
land within the sea
Everything that exists on land has its counterpart
in the sea
Talmud, Chullin 127a
Land and sea mirror each other, yet they are vastly different
worlds. Both are life-supporting environments, providing sustenance
and protection to a myriad of creatures. Both are complex
ecosystems, complete with the great variety of minerals, vegetation
and animals which form a food chain and multi-runged
ladder of life. But despite their similarities, land and sea
are different in many ways, particularly in the manner in
which the creatures who populate them relate to their environment.
Our sages have said that man is a miniature universe, a microcosm of the entire created
existence. The human being thus includes both these worldsman
has both a terrestrial and an aquatic aspect to his life.
The Secret of the Deep
Creatures of the land are to be found upon the land. Some
species burrow under for a certain part of the day or year,
and there are even species which rarely, if ever, show themselves
above ground; but on the whole, land creatures live their
lives on the surface of the earth. In fact, there is nothing
to prevent them from severing all direct contact with the
land for extended periods of time (20th-century man has all
but done so).
Not so the creatures of the sea: they live submerged within
their environment. And for most sea-dwelling animals, this
submersion is a matter of life and deatha fish out of
water is not only a creature out of its element, but a creature
who cannot survive more than a short while.
Of course, the creatures of the land are no less dependent
upon the land than their sister creatures of the sea are dependent
upon the seawithout the land and its resources a land
animal could not live. The difference lies in how this truth
is reflected in their day-to-day, hour-to-hour, and minute-to-minute
existence. With the sea creature, this dependence is constant
and obvious. The sea animal cannot separate itself from its
sustaining environment; its life and its life-source are
inexorably bound together. The land creature, on the other
hand, can receive its nourishment from the earth and then
forget about it, even deny it. Conceivably, a land creature
can live an entire lifetime without acknowledging, or in any
way demonstrating, from where its sustenance is derived.
This is the significance of the land and sea
personalities within man. There is a part of man that is disconnected
from his purpose and source: a land self that
is oblivious to the fact that his soul is a spark of
that he is granted life anew, each and every moment of time,
by his Creator, that his existence has meaning only in the
context of its role in the divine purpose. A land
self that defines its existence in the narrow terms of personal
ego and its individual desires and aspirations.
But man also possesses a sea personaa spiritual
self which transcends ego and individuality to attune its
every deed and thought to the higher goals for which he was
created. When this self is manifest, nothing about the person
is distinct from his connection to his source; like a fish
in water, his every living moment is an attestation to his
utter dependence upon, and devotion to, his source of nourishment
The Kabbalistic masters tell us that there are tzaddikim
(righteous individuals) who live their entire lives as fishes
of the sea, wholly submerged within a perpetual awareness
of and subjugation to the divine reality. Such an individual
was Moses, whose name expresses the aquatic nature
of his soul (And she called his name Moses and said:
Because I drew him from the water). Thus the Torah attests that Moses was
the most humble man on the face of the earth.
Moses was certainly aware of his own greatness; certainly
he knew that he was the single human being chosen by G-d to
serve as the conveyor of His wisdom and will to man. Yet Moses
did not view his qualities as his own attainments,
for he had utterly nullified and submerged his self within
the sea of the divine reality. His own life was merely the
divine plan being realized through an egoless vehicle; his
teachings, the Divine presence speaking from his throat.
This is not to say that our terrestrial selfour
sense of identity and individualityis to be uprooted
or suppressed. Selfhood is not, in and of itself, a negative
trait; it is only that, left to its own devices, it is prone
to develop some very negative attributes. If a person fails
to develop an aquatic consciousness and behaviorif
he loses sight of the source and goal of lifehis self
is sure to turn selfish, identity translating into self-centeredness
and individuality becoming disconnectedness and rootlessness.
Only when we have submerged ourselves within the sea of the
divine reality can we exploit our ego as the positive force
it inherently is. Only then can we properly harness our unique
worth as an individual to optimally realize our mission in
This is the ideal expressed in Jacobs blessing to his
grandchildren, Manasseh and EphraimThey shall
swarm as fish in the midst of the land.
The ultimate challenge for man is not only to be a fish,
but to be a fish in the midst of the land.
Therein lies the deeper significance of the splitting of
the Red Sea seven days after our Exodus from Egypt. In recounting
the miracle, the Torah describes the children of Israel as
walking on dry land within the sea. Following
our redemptionin both the physical and spiritual sensefrom
Egypt and its pagan culture, we were empowered to walk
on dry land as distinct and unique beings, and at the
same time walk within the seaimmerse ourselves
within the sea of the all-embracing, all-pervading, universal
truth of truths.
Our sages tell us that the splitting of the Red Sea was but
the first step of a process that spans the whole of our history;
that the song which Moses and Israel sang upon traversing
the sea is but the first stanza of a song that culminates
in the era of Moshiach, the end-goal of creation. The splitting of the sea was the
precedent that enables and directs our centuries-long quest
for that perfect synthesis of land and sea which will be fully
realized in the messianic age, when The land shall
be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the
Based on the Rebbes talks on Sukkot 5721 (1960),
Shabbat Yitro 5725 (1965), and on other occasions
For man is a tree of field
The Jewish calendar is closely attuned to the agricultural
seasons. The Torah instructs that Passover must coincide with
the season of aviv,
which is broadly defined as spring but specifically
means the season of the ripening of barley.
Shavuot is called the reaping festival
and coincides with the reaping of the staple crop, wheat.
Sukkot is the harvest festival, celebrated when
the grain, which has been drying in the field all summer,
is brought into storage.
And then there is the New Year for Trees on the
15th of the month of Shevat (Tu BeShevat), observed as the
first tree blossoms emerge from their winter slumber. Indeed,
our calendar goes to great lengths to reconcile its lunar-based
months with the solar-based seasons.
Our forefathers, observing these festivals in the Holy Land
three thousand years ago, were primarily an agrarian people.
Still, even then there was Levi, the tribe of priests; Shimon,
a tribe of schoolteachers; Issachar, a tribe of scholars;
and the seafaring merchants of Zebulun. Today, a very small
percentage of us work the land. But the Torah, G-ds
blueprint for creation, transcends differences of time and
cultural circumstance and is deeply relevant to all generations
and all societies of history. So what does all this mean to
those of us who never planted a seed or gathered a harvest?
But the very experience of life is agrarian. The souls
descent into physical life, like the planting of a seed, is
an investmenta precarious investment at that, given
the fact that ones capital erodes significantly before
returning a profit. The farmer who sows his field knows that
he is taking perfectly good graingrain with which he
could feed his familyand casting it into the soil, where
it will soon decompose and rot. But he also knows that the
disintegrating seed will stimulate the earth to yield many
times the quantity he has squandered.
The soul, too, is buried in earthcast into a body of
clay with material drives and desires. It is worse for the
wear: its spiritual senses are dulled, its moral rectitude
compromised. But the souls investment within earth and
earthiness stimulates itand the body and the physical
environment in which it has been placedto a far greater
harvest than the soul alone could yield.
The human farm includes many and varied crops.
On Passover we celebrate the ripening of barleya grain
that serves primarily as animal feed. This represents the
development of the animalistic nature with which the soul
has been saddled upon its descent into the physical state,
but whose passion and intensity surpass anything the spiritual
soul can muster for its own spiritual ideals. Properly cultivated
and directed, the beast in man thus proves a priceless resource
in the souls quest to deepen and intensify its bond
with its Creator.
On Shavuot, wheat, the staple of the human diet, is harvested.
This represents the development of the human element
in man, the souls own spiritual potential, made more
potent and bountiful by the challenge of material life. And
so it is with the other agricultural festivals on our calendar,
such as the internalization of the harvest on
Sukkot or the element of delight in life
represented by Tu BeShevats fruit blossoms:
each embodies another aspect of the souls saga as buried
seed, sprouting shoot and gainful harvest.
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Shevat 15, 5731 (February
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (the previous Lubavitcher
Rebbe, 1880-1950), who was famed for his undiscriminating
love and concern for all Jews, was once challenged: Does
not the Torah command one to Rebuke your fellow
when he is guilty of wrongdoing? Does not the Shulchan
Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) classify certain types of sinners
who are to be rejected outright? So why are you so tolerant
of so many sinful people?
Replied the Rebbe: The Shulchan Aruch consists
of four sections, each containing hundreds of chapters. The
laws of which you speak of are contained in chapter 425 of
Choshen Mishpatone of the last chapters of the
fourth section. The truth is that were you to set the Shulchan
Aruch before an illiterate boor, he would soon come upon
these laws. He would open it as he would any other bookfrom
left to right. But as you surely know, in Hebrew we read from
right to left.
What I suggest to you, concluded Rabbi Yosef
Yitzchak, is that you open the Shulchan Aruch
at the beginning. After you have studied the first three sections
and the first 424 chapters of the fourth, and you have fully
implemented them in your daily life, you may then take it
upon yourself to sit in judgment of your fellow. Then you
may decide if he is indeed to be counted among the utterly
wicked defined in chapter 425.
Told by the Rebbe on Tammuz 13, 5715 (July 3, 1955)
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
. Midrash Tanchuma, Pekudei 3.
. A sea-creatures utter identification with
its environment is also reflected in a ruling of Torah law.
When a person immerses in a mikvah to attain ritual
purity, nothing must interpose between him and the mikvahs
waters; if the slightest particle of any substance adheres
to his body, the immersion is invalid. Yet this rule does
not apply to anything which grows in water; the body of
a fish, for example, or any product thereof, is not considered
an interposition (chatzitzah) but an
integral part of the waters themselves.
. Job 31:2; Tanya, ch. 2.
. Zohar, part III, 232a.
. Veyidgu, from the word dag,
. See Talmud, Sanhedrin 91b; Midrash Tanchuma, Beshalach
. Likkutei Sichot, vol. XX, p. 172; vol. XI, p.
76. See Likkutei Torah, Tzav 14b ff.
. See Jewish Time, WIR, vol. V, no. 18.
. See The Easy Mitzvah, WIR, vol. X, no.
. See Fruit for Thought, WIR, vol. IX, no.
. Sefer HaMaamarim Melukat, vol. V, pp. 169-176.