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In Nature's Wonderland

Life in the sea: Flying Fish
Published and copyright © 1941-1989 by Kehot Publication Society
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Everyone knows that a fish swims in the water, and a bird flies in the air. That a fish should fly seems unbelievable, yet it is not a fantasy. There actually are fish that fly in the air for quite a distance, after jumping out of the water.

In order to see these flying fishes one has to take a cruise in the warm climates of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Flying fishes are found off the coast of Southern California, and in the tropical waters of the Gulf. They are not to be found in cold climates.

Do not imagine, however, that these flying fishes can fly as birds, flapping their wings, flying back and forth, right or left, at will. For these creatures are fish in every respect, and live in the water.

But unlike other fishes, they have been created with large fins, which spread out in the air like wings of a glider and enable the fish to glide through the air. Thus they "fly" in a similar way as an aeroplane flies. The wings of an aeroplane do not move, or flap, like a bird's, yet they keep it up in the air. In the same way, the wings of the flying fish enable it to glide through the air.

When these fishes are pursued by bigger fish preying on them, they start swimming under the surface of the water at a great speed, and suddenly they throw themselves out of the water by means of their strong tail, spread out their wide fins, and become airborne. If there happens to be a "tail wind" to carry them onward, they can fly for a distance of up to 1,000 feet and at a speed of 30 miles per hour. Usually, however, they fly for shorter distances, and only a few feet above the water.

They cannot turn in flight, unless carried by the wind, so they glide in the same direction until they gently dive back into the water. Back in the water, they again begin to swim with increasing speed and soon set off on another "flight excursion." In this way they can cover a considerable distance until they decide that the danger is over, or that they have had enough fun, or that they are hungry.

Once in the water, their wings fold up alongside their bodies, and they start swimming and moving about like any other fish.

How great a distance can a flying fish cover in one leap? That depends on the species, for there are several types of flying fishes, larger and smaller.

In the Pacific Ocean the duration of the "flight" of the flying fish was clocked at from 2 to 10 seconds (without the help of a wind). Longer trips of up to 42 seconds have also been recorded. During this time the flying fish can cover a distance of a quarter of a mile. This is quite a "leap" for a fish, and it would take a human being about four or five minutes to walk.

A flying fish is a comparatively small fish, usually the size of a herring. When it spreads out its wings in the air, their span is wider than the length of the body, reaching a width of 14 inches. It is an elegant fish, with a silver-blue belly and deep blue sides and back.

The "wings" are delicate, thin and transparent, and in flight the flying fish looks like a giant dragonfly.

Flying fishes are kosher and make good food. It is easy to catch them if you happen to be in a sail-boat at night. All that would be necessary would be to illuminate the sail by means of a lamp; even the moon shining on the white sail will do. The whiteness of the sail seems to attract flying fish.

They fly towards the sail and bang right into it, thereby failing into the boat. As flying fishes usually fly in groups, or schools, it is quite easy to catch a great many of them in this manner. One has to be careful, however, not to be struck by a flying fish, for even a herring, flying at 30 miles per hour, can give some wallop. It sometimes happens that a stray flying fish flies through an open porthole of a lighted ship's cabin, and then one has a chance of examining the uninvited guest at close range.

Speaking of flying fish brings to mind other dwellers of the seas which, like the "flying" fish have some characteristic, or similarity, found in land animals.

Some fishes even have names similar to those of land animals, such as sea-horses, sea-hogs, sea-lions, sea cows, catfish, etc. In fact, our Sages declare that "Everything found on dry land, has its counterpart in the sea, with the exception of a 'huldah' (a kind of weasel)."

This is a remarkable statement, considering it was made some two thousand years ago, when people generally knew very little about nature study, and still less about the dwellers of the deep oceans. Only during the past few decades has an intensive study of life in the deep waters begun. The secrets of the oceans are gradually being discovered, and the more has been learned about life at the bottom of the seas, the more support the statement of our Sages has received (not that there is any need to find proof for the statements of our holy Sages).

Since everything on dry land is to be found also in the sea, it means that life in our world is actually divided into two worlds: the world of dry land and the world of the sea.

The first is an open world; we see all the creatures around us: the trees, flowers, birds, animals, etc. The second is a hidden world; life in the depths of the ocean is hidden from our view, covered up by water.

There is yet a more important difference between the two worlds.

Although all the creatures of the land depend upon the land, just as all the creatures of the water depend upon the water, this dependence is not the same in these two worlds.

A fish can live only in water; the life of the fish is strongly attached to its source of life. A land creature lives off the land, directly or indirectly, but its connection with the land is not so obvious.

When, for example, one buys a loaf of bread at the bakery, how often does one think that the loaf was made out of flour, which was made out of wheat, which had been grown in a field from seeds planted in the earth? Only the Jew who pronounces the blessing, "Who brings forth bread from the earth," is mindful of this, and gives thanks to the Creator for having endowed the earth with an infinite power of fruitfulness. Or, for another example, when someone buys a new suit, does it occur to him that the suit was made out of cloth, woven from woolen yarn, spun from wool, shorn off a lamb, which fed on grass, growing from the earth?"

So it is with everything we use; it can all be traced back to the earth, though it is often quite a big jump from the finished article to its source in the earth. The fishes, however, are different; they are in close contact with their source and actually live in it.

These two worlds - the revealed and the hidden, as represented by land and sea - remind us of another set of two worlds, one revealed and the other concealed, which are likewise symbolized by "land" and "sea" respectively.

We have in mind the human being, who is considered a world in himself, for every person is a "small world," "a world in miniature."

Thus our Sages remarked, "He who saves a person is considered as if he had saved an entire world." Now, this individual world of every person is also divided into two worlds: an open world and a hidden world.

The open world of the individual is what the eye sees: a person of a certain height and physical frame, with certain dispositions (friendly, or otherwise), and with a variety of characteristics and peculiarities which distinguish one person from another. All this has to do with the person's physical appearance. But the same person also has a hidden world which the eye cannot see. It is the spiritual world, the world of the soul.

The source of life, both of the physical body and of the spiritual soul, is in G-d; for G-d is the Giver of life. But the connection with the source is not so obvious in the physical and material world of the individual as in the spiritual world.

If all goes well, the physical life of the individual runs smoothly, "naturally." A person may go about his business a whole day without giving a thought to G-d, Who is really the One Who provides and sustains, gives life and health. Again, the Jew who prays three times daily and sets aside regular periods for the study of G-d's Torah, cannot possibly forget about G-d; but in between, when he is occupied in worldly matters, it is easy to forget about G-d.

On the other hand, the connection between the soul and its source, G-dliness, is entirely different. Here there is a direct and immediate attachment; for the soul is a part of G-dliness itself. Just as a fish cannot be separated from its source, the water, if it is to remain alive, so, and much more so, a Jew cannot be separated from his source - G-dliness.

Thus, a person may be living in two worlds: most of the time in a material world, and some of the time in a spiritual world, like an "amphibious" ("double life") creature that can live both on land and in the water.

However, those extraordinary creatures in the animal kingdom which are "amphibious," have been created that way. A human being, on the other hand, has not been created to live a double life. Certainly this is not the Jewish way of life.

The Jewish way of life is to merge the two worlds into one. The physical and the spiritual are not two opposing sides, but they blend together in full accord and harmony. How is this done?

Well, first of all, we must realize that the material world does not consist of dead matter. Matter has a "soul" of its own.

Secondly, and this is the essential point: We must convert physical things into the spiritual, that is, to "spiritualize" the material. We do this by treating all material things with a certain sense of "holiness."

Thus, for example, we consider food not as something merely to tickle our palate and fill our belly, but as something which G-d has created to sustain us and give us energy to serve Him. We, therefore, wash our hands before our meal, recite a blessing before eating, and say Grace after eating. This is how (G-d, the Creator, wants us to think of food, and of all other things in our daily life, for He has given us instructions, that is "commandments," how to go about our daily life in all its aspects, even the most ordinary and commonplace. If, then, we go on to use the energy, which we have derived from the food, to perform good and holy things, you can see how we actually convert the material and physical into something spiritual and holy.

Furthermore, when these good and holy things are truly dedicated to G-d alone, with out any personal motivation, then we have converted the material and spiritual into G-dliness, and in doing so our body and mind are also absorbed in G-dliness, so that the net result is: there is nothing else but G-dliness; nothing really but One G-d.

To return to our Flying Fish, we will conclude with this thought:

The Flying Fish leaps out of the water and sails through the air, as if it were in search of a higher world than the one in which it lives. We, creatures of the "land," must also make a "leap" to rise above the earthly and material. But we are not required to condemn our earthly life, nor do we have to withdraw from the material aspects in life; we are required, however, to bring holiness into all these things.

Yet, if the Flying Fish must return to its normal way of life, we humans can rise ever higher and higher.

 Sockeye Salmon Sea Horses

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