Kollel Milhamta Shel Torah of Queens A Spiritual Home for Torah and Tefillah

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Most readers are probably familiar with horoscopes. I am certainly not advising you to read them in the daily newspaper, but the fact is, according to our tradition, each month of the year has an astrological sign from the zodiac. The configuration of the constellations reflects the nature of that month. For example, the month of Tishreh is Libra - the scales, because that is the month of Rosh Hashana - the Day of Judgment. The month of Ab is Leo, the lion, representing the ferocious enemy that consumed our holy Temple on Tisha B’ab.

This month is Adar Aleph - the first month of Adar. (This year is a leap year in which there are two months of Adar.Adar is a very special month. The Gemara says: “mi’shenichnas Adar marbin b’simcha -When Adar arrives, we increase our joy.” The astrological sign of Adar is Pisces - fish, in Hebrew, “Dagim.” 

The Adar-Fish Connection

What is the inherent connection between Adar and fish? Moreover, the word “Dagim” is plural, i.e. more than one fish. In fact, interestingly enough, the pictorial symbol of Pisces is two fish aligned head to tail, going opposite each other. All the other signs of the zodiac are singular: one scale, one lion, etc. This also begs an explanation.

The simple explanation for the multiple fish is that while every other month in the Jewish calendar is a single month, Adar is the only month that is a double month - in a leap year, like this year. Since there are two months of Adar, hence two fish.

Nevertheless, I want to suggest a deeper approach that offers us an important lesson for life.

The Lesson of Bitahon

A rabbi once called his students to gather in his study. When they arrived, they saw a big fish lying on the rabbi’s table. The rabbi greeted them and said, “Today, I want to reveal to you one of life’s great secrets.” He took a knife and slit open the belly of the fish, urging them to look inside. The students were surprised to discover a small fish inside the belly of the big fish. “Look closely,” the rabbi said, “What here seems strange to you?” “Indeed, dear Rabbi,” they responded, “the head of the small fish is pointing toward the tail of the big fish. It almost looks as if it swam straight into the mouth of the big fish. We would have expected to see ‘head to head’ and ‘tail to tail,’ as though he were fleeing the pursuing fish.” The rabbi smiled and explained to his students the following lesson.

We have a fundamental principle of bitahon. A person must put his trust in Gd. When you do so, Gd is with you, helping, guiding, and protecting. But Gd demands exclusivity. If one puts his faith in something else, even if he also believes in Gd, then Gd says, “Fine, I leave you in your own hands. See how far you get.”

For example, many people put their faith in their job as the source of parnasa. Picture someone who has been working at the same company for twenty years. Each month he gets his paycheck on the same day. He looks forward to his pension fund and takes comfort from the various insurance plans offered by his employer. One day, all of a sudden, his company declares bankruptcy and informs him that they don’t have the money for his pension and other obligations. Yes, he believed in Gd all these years - but in other areas. In the area of parnasa, he put his trust in this job. Finally, he realizes the company is not Gd. Gd is giving him a message: “You were fooled. You thought the company was giving you parnasa. No, it was Me.”

There was once a famous billionaire who said in a press conference, “One thing I know for sure. I have so much money, I am certain that I will never die of starvation.” Just a few days later they found him dead, locked in one of his vaults. He had entered without anybody knowing, and the door shut behind him. The coroner’s report read, “Cause of death: Starvation.” Gd was telling him: “You trust your money. See how much you can eat when left alone with your money.”

Other people put their trust in government. They believe the government will solve all their problems, as well as all the ills of society. Inevitably, the government lets them down, and they finally realize they cannot put their trust there.

It’s important to understand that Gd’s actions are not a punishment. Gd is not taking revenge. He wants us to learn what happens if we trade him in for a cheap substitute. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way.

The Lesson Gd Teaches Us

Let’s return to the fish story. That little fish, as he swims along, has a strategy. He says, “Gd, I don’t need you to protect me from what’s in front of me. I have my own eyes and I can watch out for danger coming at me. If I see a big fish, I’ll know how to escape. But I don’t have a rearview mirror. Gd, please cover my back.”

So, Gd teaches the fish (and all of us) a lesson: “Where you trust Me you’ll never get harmed.” The little fish is never eaten from behind, because that’s where he relies on Gd. But where he trusts his own eyes, in the front, he falls every time. He swims right into the mouth of that big fish. Gd is sending the message, “Don’t think you can live without me.”

Likewise, the big fish also teaches us a lesson of faith. He spends his days pursuing the small fish from behind. He makes every effort to catch him, but never succeeds. When he finally relaxes and takes a break, the little fish comes swimming right into his open mouth. Gd’s message is: “You think it’s your effort and your diligence that brings you your parnasa? The more you chased, you never caught one fish.” Once you give it over to Gd, He says, “You remember me? Don’t worry. I am with you. Now the fish will come right into your mouth.”

Thus, the Rabbi taught his students a fantastic lesson in emuna from both fish: The fish going this way, and the fish going that way.

The Week’s Beracha Comes from Shabbat

This story may also be a basis for our custom to eat fish on Shabbat. The holy books teach that all the beracha of the week comes from Shabbat. It’s like a wellspring of blessing, right in the middle of the week - three days before and three days after. That’s why we don’t refer to Shabbat as the weekend. To us, Shabbat is “week-Center” that brings beracha both to the days before it and after it.

All the parnasa we make during the other six days comes from Shabbat, yet ironically, we don’t work on Shabbat. The days in which we are industrious derive their success from our faithfully keeping Shabbat. Sometimes, keeping Shabbat requires bitahon on our part, for example, in an industry where Shabbat is the busiest day of the week, as in retail. Our job is to understand that success in sales is not the winning product, nor the savviest marketing; it’s all theRibbono Shel Olam. We demonstrate this by the fact that we don’t make any effort on Shabbat, yet that generates the beracha for the rest of the week. As we say in the Lecha Dodi on Friday night: “Likrat Shabbat l’chu v’nelcha, ki hi makor ha’beracha - Let us walk toward the Shabbat, for she is the source of blessing.” Therefore, we eat fish to remember: Where we put our faith in Gd we always win. When we rely on our own abilities, we lose.

This lesson of the fish may also explain an unusual feature of their anatomy. Fish are one of the only creatures without eyelids. A fish never closes its eyes, even when it’s sleeping. This reminds us that the eye of Gd is always watching over us, when we put our trust in Him and close our own weary eyes and sleep.

What Happens When We Relax Our Bitahon

There’s a famous story of a rabbi and his student who were making a long journey by horse and buggy. They reached a very steep descent, and the student got scared, thinking there’s no way the horse is going to make it down this mountain without tumbling over. He panicked and screamed out “Shema Yisrael,” preparing to jump out and save himself. But the rabbi held his arm and said, “Sit tight. It’s going to be okay.” Sure enough, they made it down safely. They continued to travel along flat terrain as the student finally began to calm down and relax. All of a sudden, the horse tripped on a pebble and the whole carriage overturned, tossing both the Rabbi and student into the snow bank at the side of the road. The rabbi emerged and chuckled to himself. “Why are you laughing?” asked his puzzled disciple. The Rabbi explained, “I knew it… Before, on the dangerous precipice, once you said ‘Shema Yisrael,’ I knew Gd would protect us, because we put our faith in Him. But here, on the smooth road, you relaxed, feeling inside, what do we need Him for on this simple path? Now I’m safe. I don’t need Gd; I have the driver. V’nahafoch hu - on the contrary. Gd says, OK. Let’s see how you make out without Me, and we ended up in the snow.”

There is a fascinating statistic: Most car accidents happen locally, on quiet side streets, not on highways. Besides the reason given by the AAA, I’ll tell you the real reason. On the highway, going 80 MPH on a six-lane expressway, a person is aware that he needs Heavenly assistance; he turns to Hashem and says Tefilat Haderech. But driving near the safety of home, the driver feels he can manage by himself. Again, he needs to be reminded of the divine lesson: “You think don’t need Me, please learn how far you can get without Me.”

Think about it. If I would tell you I’m going to China tomorrow, you’d probably send me off with prayers and blessing. “Hacham, may Hashem be with you and protect you. Have a safe journey, etc.” However, if I tell you I’m going to the mini market two blocks down the street, you’d look at me and say, “Go ahead.” Thus, is it surprising that most accidents happen in common situations near home?

What Purim Comes to Teach Us

In the Purim story, Haman made a lottery to determine which month he could commit his genocide against the Jews. It came out on Adar, and he was thrilled, because he also followed his horoscope. He reasoned, Adar is Mazal Dagim, Pisces the fish; that’s when the big fish swallows the small fish. I’m the big fish and the Jews are the small fish. I will certainly be successful in overcoming them. He may have read his horoscope in the New York Post, but he certainly did not read this shiur. All he knew was that he had the king’s signet ring, immense wealth, and a royal proclamation condemning the Jews. He made the mistake of the big fish, thinking his power and strength will enable him to swallow the little fish from behind. V’nahafoch hu - on the contrary, Gd said, not only won’t it work; it’s going to backfire. Whatever Haman tried to do to the Jewish people, ended up happening to him. He tried to hang Mordechai, and he and his ten sons ended up hanging from the same tree.

On the other hand, the Jews had only Hashem to rely on. Esther didn’t want the Jews to place their hope in her, thinking that she would be their secret weapon to make a political maneuver to save them. The first thing she did was to call for a mandatory three-day fast, day and night, something that was unprecedented in our history. As a result of that fast, the Jews made teshuva and humbled themselves. They realized that they cannot trust the King or anyone else.

Queen Esther was so smart; she took an additional step to ensure that the Jews would not rely on their “sister” in the palace, instead of trusting in Gd. If they would put their hope in her, Gd would say, “See how far she can get you.” So, she devised a strategy so that they should not believe in her. She invited Achashverosh and Haman to a wine-tasting party, and they drank together, without a single mention of the impending disaster. She even invited them for more of the same the following night. Why did she do this? Why not go directly to the king and simply tell him she was Jewish and Haman wants to kill her and her nation? The answer is that she wanted the Jews to read the newspaper the following day and see a front-page picture of their queen wining and dining with the number one enemy of the Jewish people. She knew they would say, “Shema Yisrael! We can’t trust her either. Who knows how they brainwashed her - maybe she became a traitor?” Can you imagine how world Jewry would have reacted to seeing a picture in the New York Times in 1941 of the leadership of all the international Jewish organizations having a gleeful dinner party with the leader of the Third Reich, yemach shmo? Queen Esther wanted the people to rely only on Gd. And sure enough, ve’nahafoch hu - the small fish ate the big fish. When we put our faith where it belongs, we have success. If we move away, we have a downfall, Heaven forbid.

Back to Adar and Dagim

Now we can come back and answer our two original questions. The mazal, the astrological sign ofDagim – Pisces, is plural because Adar is the month we celebrate the lesson of the two fish, trusting in Gd’s protection over reliance on our own strength.

This is also the deeper connection between Dagim - Pisces and the extra happiness which is the essence of the month of Adar. When we have bitahon, knowing we are in Hashem’s hands, we feel secure and happy. Gd is watching us. We have nothing to fear, not Haman and not Iran. When we put our faith in Gd, we realize there are no mistakes in the world. We know that we have to put in an effort, but the results are all in His hands. Therefore, no matter what the outcome, we are a success, even if we don’t understand.