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Parashat BeShalah: G-d Will Pay You Will Back

The Gemara in Masechet Pesahim (118) tells that after the miracle of the Yam Suf, when Beneh Yisrael crossed the sea and stood at the shore, they were still frightened. They feared that just as they crossed the sea to the shore, the Egyptians, who were pursuing them, also crossed the sea on dry land and would soon come to shore and try to kill them. In order to allay the people’s fears, G-d ordered the angel assigned over the sea to spew forth the corpses of the drowned Egyptians, so Beneh Yisrael would see that their pursuers were dead. The angel, however, objected, asking, "Does a master give a gift and then take it away?" G-d had given the fish of the sea a "gift" – the remains of the Egyptians, which the fish could feed on. It would not be right, the angels protested, for G-d to now take this "gift" away from the fish. G-d replied by promising the angel that He would repay the fish 1.5 times that which He was taking from them. He was only "borrowing" their food, and would pay this "debt" at some point in the future. The angel demanded a guarantor, and G-d named the Kishon River, in Northern Israel, as the guarantor for this "loan" which He took from the fish. The angel accepted the deal, and the sea threw the bodies of the Egyptians onto the shore to show Beneh Yisrael that their former oppressors were drowned.

Many years later, during the time of Debora, Beneh Yisrael fought a fierce battle against the army of Sisera in Eretz Yisrael. The Gemara relates that to help Beneh Yisrael, G-d made the ground underneath the enemy’s horses very hot. The horses rushed to the nearby Kishon River to cool off their feet, and G-d instructed the Kishon to overflow its banks and drown Sisera’s army. He said to the river, "Go pay My debt," as the time had come to repay the "debt" owed to the fish. Sisera’s army was drowned, and it was then that the fish were repaid for giving up the bodies of the Egyptians after the miracle of the Yam Suf. The Gemara concludes that at that point the fish sang praise to G-d, exclaiming, "Ve’emet Hashem Le’olam," extolling G-d’s trustworthiness, seeing that He fulfilled His commitment.

This remarkable story may help explain the custom observed by many to eat fish on Shabbat. This custom is very common among Ashkenazim, as well as among some Sephardic communities (particular Moroccan Jews). Indeed, there is expression, "Ha’ochel Dag Be’yom Dag Nisol Mi’dag." The Hebrew word for "fish" is "Dag," which has the numerical value of 7, and has two letters – "Dalet" and "Gimmal" – which stand for "Din Gehinam" ("the punishment of Gehinam"). And it is thus said that whoever eats "Dag" on the day of "Dag" – the seventh day, Shabbat – is saved from "Dag" – the punishment of Gehinam.

Different explanations are given to explain the significance of eating fish on Shabbat, but one possibility may relate to the story of the fish in the Yam Suf. The Talmud teaches that a person’s livelihood for the entire year is determined on Rosh Hashanah, but the money spent for Shabbat, Yom Tob and Torah education are not included in this sum. Meaning, the money spent for these Misvot is taken off G-d’s account, as it were; He promises to pay us back for all the expenses incurred for Shabbat, holidays and Torah education. And thus when we sit down for the Shabbat meal, after spending significant sums of money for the delicacies that will be served, we eat fish to remind ourselves of the fish of the Yam Suf. We are shown that just as G-d fulfilled His promise to the fish, and many years later repaid them for the food He "borrowed" from them after the Egyptians were drowned, similarly, He can be trusted to pay us for the money we "borrowed" from Him when shopping for Shabbat. We have no reason to be concerned about the charges made to the credit card when purchasing our Shabbat goods, because Hashem made a promise to repay us for these expenses – and He can always be trusted to fulfill His promises.

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