Berachos 61b: Fish Were Created for the Water

Berachos 61b: Once the evil government decreed that Jews were forbidden to study Torah. Papus ben Yehuda found Rabbi Akiva gathering groups in public and teaching Torah. He said to him, “Akiva, aren’t you afraid of the government?” He said to him, “I will give you a parable: A fox was walking on the bank of the river, and saw the fish gathering in one place and then another. ‘Why are you fleeing?’ he asked them. ‘From the nets cast by men,’ they said. He said to them, ‘Would you like to come up onto the dry land, and I will live with you just as my fathers lived with your fathers?’ They said to him: ‘Are you the one they call the wisest of the animals?’ You are not wise, but foolish. If in our element of life we are afraid, all the more so in our element of death!’ So too with us: if now, when we study Torah, our life and the length of our days (Devarim 30:20), we are killed, all the more so if we ignore Torah study!”

ברכות סא ע”ב: תנו רבנן: פעם אחת גזרה מלכות הרשעה שלא יעסקו ישראל בתורה, בא פפוס בן יהודה ומצאו לרבי עקיבא שהיה מקהיל קהלות ברבים ועוסק בתורה. אמר ליה: עקיבא, אי אתה מתירא מפני מלכות? אמר לו: אמשול לך משל, למה הדבר דומה ־ לשועל שהיה מהלך על גב הנהר, וראה דגים שהיו מתקבצים ממקום למקום, אמר להם: מפני מה אתם בורחים? אמרו לו: מפני רשתות שמביאין עלינו בני אדם. אמר להם: רצונכם שתעלו ליבשה, ונדור אני ואתם כשם שדרו אבותי עם אבותיכם? אמרו לו: אתה הוא שאומרים עליך פקח שבחיות? לא פקח אתה, אלא טפש אתהִ ומה במקום חיותנו אנו מתיראין, במקום מיתתנו על אחת כמה וכמהִ אף אנחנו, עכשיו שאנו יושבים ועוסקים בתורה, שכתוב בה (דברים ל׳) כי הוא חייך וארך ימיך ־ כך, אם אנו הולכים ומבטלים ממנה ־ על אחת כמה וכמה.

Before Theodor Herzl became a Zionist, he contemplated assimilation as a solution for anti-Semitism. He thought that Jews had devised the Jewish religion as a response to their rejection by the hostile outside world. Now, however, the outside world had since changed for the better, granting equality to the Jews, yet the Jews remained separate; this aroused anti-Semitism. The solution, therefore, was for Jews to assimilate.

In a conversation with his friend Ludwig Speidel, he compared Jews to seals which, according to the theory of evolution, were originally land animals that evolved to live in water. They could therefore evolve back into land animals again.

“However, anti-Semitism, which is a strong if unconscious force among the masses, will do the Jews no harm. I hold it to be a movement useful for the development of Jewish character. It is the education of a group by the surrounding populations and will perhaps in the end lead to its absorption. We are educated only through hard knocks. A sort of Darwinian mimicry will set in. The Jews will adapt themselves. They are like the seals, which a natural catastrophe cast into the ocean. There they took on the appearance and property of fish, which of course they are not. If they ever return to dry land and are allowed to remain there a few generations, they will do away with their finny feet.” (The Diaries of Theodor Herzl, p. 10)

Amazingly, Herzl’s argument is exactly that of the fox in Rabbi Akiva’s parable. The fox says, “Come and live on the land with me, just as my fathers lived with your fathers.” In other words, the fox is arguing that the fish were not really created for the water. They originally lived on land, and only adapted to live in water due to the circumstances.

The fish’s response, and our response to Herzl is no! The Jewish people were created to live by the Torah. The Torah is not just a temporary response to circumstances. Therefore, leaving the Torah is like a fish leaving the water. Without Torah, the Jewish people would be unable to breathe and would certainly die out. Herzl thought you can take away Judaism from the Jews, and they can continue to be Jews. With his subsequent idea of Zionism, he, and his successors, continued to think the same way, except that the abandonment of Torah would take place on a national scale. The response to him is that Torah is the defining feature of Jews, and without it, there will be no Jews.

But there is more. The fish made a “kal vachomer” – they told the fox that coming onto the land would solve nothing as far as the fishermen, and it would create the additional danger of lack of oxygen. Here too, time proved that Jews who assimilate – whether on a personal or a national level – are still attacked by anti-Semites, and even if they escape, die out spiritually. Rabbi Akiva, on the other hand, died personally at the hands of the Romans, but kept Klal Yisroel alive by passing down the Torah to the next generation.


Berachos 38a: The Bracha on Chocolate

Berachos 38a: On dates that were pounded into a paste, one says the bracha, “Borei pri ha’eitz.” Why? Because they are still in their natural state.

Rashi: Somewhat pounded but not completely pulverized.

ברכות לח ע”א. והלכתא תמרי ועבדינהו טרימא מברכין עלוייהו בורא פרי העץ, מאי טעמא במילתייהו קיימי כדמעיקרא.

רש”י: ושם טרימא כל דבר הכחוש קצת ואינו מרוסק.

שו”ע או”ח ר”ב ס”ז: תמרים שמיעכן ביד ועשה מהם עיסה והוציא מהם גרעיניהם אפילו הכי לא נשתנית ברכתן ומברך עליהם בורא פרי העץ ולבסוף ברכה מעין שלש: הגה ולפי זה ה״ה בלטווערן הנקרא פאווידל״א מברכין עליהם בורא פרי העץ וי״א לברך עליהם שהכל (ת״ה סי׳ כ״ט וב״י בשם הטור) וטוב לחוש לכתחלה לברך שהכל אבל אם בירך בפה״ע יצא כי כן נראה עיקר.

שם ר”ג ס”ז: בשמים שחוקים ומעורבים עם סוקר, הבשמים עיקר ומברך עליהם כדין ברכת אותן בשמים.

מ”ב שם סקי”ב: שחוקים – היינו אף כשהם שחוקים ונימוחים לגמרי עד שאין ניכר בהם תארן הראשון כלל אפ”ה לא נשתנית ברכתן עי”ז לכו”ע דדרך הבשמים לכתוש באופן זה. סקי”ג: הבשמים עיקר – היינו אפילו כשהיה צוקע”ר הרוב ומעט בשמים וכעין שנוהגים בינינו וכו’. 

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach held that the bracha on chocolate is borei pri ha’eitz. He printed this psak in Minchas Shlomo (v. 1 page 610) and followed it himself. Once, his grandchildren were visiting him and chocolate bars were served. One of them asked, “Zaidy, what bracha should I make?” “Go ask your grandmother,” was his reply.

When he reported back that she had told him to make “shehakol”, R’ Shlomo Zalman said, “So why are you coming back to me again?”

Source: Making of a Godol, p. 139

[The logic for saying “shehakol” is, apparently, that the chocolate is completely ground up and bears no resemblance to the original cacao bean. This is similar to the date paste mentioned by the Rema in 202:7 on which one makes “shehakol” when the dates are completely pulverized.

The flaw in this, says R’ Shlomo Zalman, is that while dates can be, and in fact are, eaten in their natural state, cacao beans are bitter and impossible to eat as they are. They must be ground up and mixed with other ingredients to be edible. In this respect they are similar to spices, on which one makes “ha’eitz” even when they are mixed with a majority of sugar.

Furthermore, he argues, Sephardim should definitely make “ha’eitz” since they follow the Mechaber who says that even on completely pulverized dates, one makes “ha’eitz”.

As to the reason why he didn’t pasken for his grandson, perhaps he held that since his psak ran counter to the world’s custom, it would not be right to confuse children with it, especially since one fulfills his obligation in any case with “shehakol.” Only those capable of understanding the reasoning should follow it.

One additional point: R’ Shlomo Zalman begins his piece by writing that he understands why people make “shehakol” when drinking hot cocoa, based on the Shaarei Teshuva 202:19. The Shaarei Teshuva does say that “shehakol” is what the world makes on coffee, tea and hot cocoa. But looking at the Panim Meiros 2:190 he quotes on the subject of coffee and tea, it’s far from clear why that practice is correct. The Panim Meiros gives many reasons to make “ha’adamah” on tea and mentions a great man, Rabbi Shmuel Shatin, who did so; when asked why he went against the prevalent custom, he replied, “Any custom not established by chachamim is not a custom.” Still, the Panim Meiros concludes that he personally says “shehakol” because he does not want to do anything that looks strange to people.]