May 23, 2024
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May 23, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I don’t like fish.

Well, that’s not really true. I enjoy watching fish swimming around and I find them to be fascinating. But that’s while they are alive. Once they are dead, I don’t like them anymore, especially not on my plate.

What? You don’t eat gefilte fish?


Fish sticks?


You don’t have tuna fish at seuda shelishit?

Absolutely not!

But you for sure like sushi!

Raw fish is the worst!

So, you don’t eat herring? Are you Jewish?

I can’t even stand the smell of herring.

What about the fact that it says one should eat בשר ודגים on Shabbat?

 The next line is וכל מטעמים – and all tasty delicacies. I don’t find fish to be מטעמים!

The bottom line is that I don’t like fish—not with chrein, not in the rain, not on a plane and not down the drain.

On Rosh Hashanah evening, instead of fish, our family eats the candy jellyfish. In fact, we have two jellyfish. One upon which we say the prayer for when eating fish, and the second from which we eat the head and say the prayer for eating the head of a fish.

When my children shared with me the story of Yonah before Yom Kippur, I told them that it’s similar to the story about why I don’t eat fish.

When I was young, despite my protestations, my parents insisted that I eat gefilte fish. On one difficult occasion, I forced down the gefilte fish. As soon as I did, I felt that the fish was davening to Hashem to be rescued from inside my stomach. Then, just like Yonah, on the third day I opened my mouth, and out came the fish. I’m not sure if it went to Ninveh afterwards[1], but that’s when I stopped eating fish. My children were skeptical of my story.

I remember one Shavuot morning, when we were invited out for the day seudah. After being up all night and then sleeping for a few hours, I plied myself out of bed where we were served… a fish meal. How were they to know that I wouldn’t eat fish? At that point I wasn’t just grumpy from being tired, I was also grumpy from being hungry.

Interestingly, I have a couple of neighbors who are in the same boat as me (pun intended) when it comes to eating—or not eating—fish. That makes it easier when we have Shabbat meals together.

My sensitivity is pretty extreme. On one occasion, I ordered a bagel from a store. When I took a bite out of it, I was able to tell that the knife used to spread the butter had been previously used to smear tuna fish. I couldn’t eat it.

I especially detest the smell of baking or fried fish, especially salmon.

All this leaves me a bit concerned during the Sukkot season. Don’t get me wrong—I love Sukkot and enjoy every minute of the beautiful holiday. But when we take leave of the sukkah, we recite a customary prayer, “May it be Your Will, that next year we merit to sit in the sukkah made out of the skin of the leviathan.” Wait a minute—a huge sukkah made out of fish? I hope it doesn’t smell like fish in there. Is there an option to sit inside a sukkah made out of wood? Better yet, doesn’t Gan Eden have access to a Leiter fiberglass sukkah? I’m sure they could get a good deal.

Our sages relate[2] that at the beginning of creation, God created a male and female leviathan. He then killed the female leviathan so that the leviathan wouldn’t procreate, because the world couldn’t handle the propagation of such a mammoth species. God then salted the female leviathan and preserved it for the righteous to enjoy in the future.

What was the point of God creating something, only to destroy it immediately after?

Rav Matisyahu Salomon explains[3] that God did so to teach the world a vital lesson about how He runs the world. At the time that God killed the female leviathan, it must have seemed like a terrible tragedy. It was a short time after creation, and this species was not only endangered, but it was also guaranteed to eventually become extinct. But, in truth, its death was the greatest kindness for the entire world. Had it lived, the rest of creation would have been endangered.

When we begin Bereishit anew and study the Torah’s narrative of creation, one of the first lessons we encounter is that of the leviathan. It serves to remind us that there is a plan and direction to everything that occurs in life, even though it often doesn’t seem that way to us. Just as God created the world with precision and perfection, so does He continue to maintain it with that same exactitude and perfection.

That is also the lesson of Sukkot. Throughout the year we place our confidence in our assets, governments, business acumen and capabilities. But on Sukkot we sit beneath the shade of the Divine, acknowledging that it’s all Him. We also shake the Four Species in all directions, to further emphasize that all the winds and storms of life are from Him.

The world and our lives are on a path guided by the infallible. Our task is to do the best we can within the circumstances we are dealt.

I may not like fish. But I’m confident that the experience of sitting in a sukkah and partaking in the feast of the leviathan will be a blissful experience, even for those who don’t like the taste of fish.

I hope that indeed I’ll merit to see you there in that magnificent sukkah next year. Until then, we should all remember the timeless lesson it teaches us about the divine path of life and that everything is ultimately for the good.

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a popular speaker and author. He is a rebbe in Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, New Jersey, and an experienced therapist, recently returning to seeing clients in private practice, as part of the Rockland CBT group. For appointments Rabbi Staum can be reached at 914-295-0115.

Looking for an inspirational and motivating speaker or scholar-in-residence? Contact Rabbi Staum for a unique speaking experience.

Rabbi Staum can be reached at [email protected]. Archives of his writings can be found at

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