In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayechi, we read the famous verse of Ha-malach ha-Goel, a prayer we recite nightly as part of the bedtime Shema before going to sleep. In this verse, Jacob blesses his grandsons Menasseh and Ephraim, wishing that they and their descendants should be like fish. One might think Jacob bestowed such a blessing on them because fish produce many offspring. This idea makes a lot of sense, as the forefathers are told throughout Genesis that they will have many descendants. This explanation is supported by Rashi, who adds another possibility.
Echoing Rabbi Yosei bar Chanina, who says in Tractate Brachot that fish are surrounded by water and therefore protected from the ayin ha-ra (evil eye), Rashi suggests Jacob makes the comparison to fish to say the Jewish people should also be guarded from the ayin hara.
Another thing we learn from fish is the importance of living in a community. Fish travel in groups, called schools, for their own individual safety and for their family’s survival, as there is strength in numbers. Just three weeks ago, in Parashat Vayeshev, we read about the story of Judah leaving his brothers. Without getting into too much detail, the story ends with Judah being publicly humiliated. We can learn from Judah’s story – as well as from Jacob’s blessing – the importance of living in a Jewish community, not only for one’s own spiritual survival, but for the survival of the religion as a whole.
This is what I believe Jacob meant when he blessed the Jewish people to be like fish – that the survival of the Jewish people, like fish, is strengthened by Jews living together. May such unity merit to quickly bring the ultimate redemption of Mashiach.