Adel and Josh were distraught. “Our daughter is seeing a non-Jewish boy. Rabbi, where did we go wrong?” they cried. I put my arm around Josh’s shoulder and assured them that they had done nothing wrong. We live in extremely challenging times and even the best families are hit with spiritual misfortune that is beyond our control.
While there are certainly no guarantees in life, what can we do to stem the tidal wave of anti-spirituality that attempts to envelop us and our families?
Abaye teaches that one may eat a certain species of kosher fish called tzachanta from the Bav river without prior sifting, because non-kosher fish are generally not found in that river. He explains that the Bav is a saltwater river with a very strong current, making it very difficult for non-kosher fish to survive, since small non-kosher fish have no spine or scales. Moreover, says the Talmud, the riverbed is too pure an environment for non-kosher fish to thrive.
We live in turbulent times when it is not easy to maintain one’s spiritual connection. Temptation abounds and materialism calls out to us. How do we survive in these rough waters?
1. Kosher fish have strong spines. If we want to remain strong, we must maintain a formidable backbone. We need to stand straight and tall and be proud of our religious heritage and commitment. We must strive to command the respect of one who walks into a room with a firm posture, with the self-confidence that we have direction and purpose in life.
2. Kosher fish have scales. It takes thick skin and an almost impermeable suit of armor to withstand the challenges of the materialistic society that surrounds us. We must create self-imposed barriers to protect ourselves from temptation. For some, it might mean internet controls; for others it might mean the way that we dress.
3. Ultimately, says the Talmud, a lot boils down to the environment we create for ourselves and our families. We must choose the right friends, the right community, healthy places of entertainment. This is the most important ingredient to survival in turbulent times. The right environment does not just happen; we must work hard to create and maintain such choices.
We live in rough waters where non-kosher fish cannot survive. These are turbulent times for those who choose to live a life dedicated to a higher calling.
Today, I pledge to stand proud of my commitment to the Almighty. I will create barriers against temptation. And I will find the right environment in which to live and bring up my family.