Several months ago, at a children’s rally, my 10-year-old son was the lucky winner of a raffle. His prize? A plump goldfish. It came in a plastic bag filled with water.
My son was ecstatic with his prize. I, on the other hand, was anxious. While I feigned excitement, inwardly I dreaded what I was sure was to come. Previous experiences made me wonder how long we would have it before it would die on us.
We immediately drove to the closest fish store and purchased special food as well as a perfectly sized glass bowl that was to become our goldfish’s comfortable new home. Despite all our efforts, though, by the next morning our prized goldfish was dead.
But my son’s enthusiasm for a pet fish had been whetted. He begged us for another fish, a stronger one that he could care for long term. That is how Simcha, our blue Betta fish, reluctantly came into our home.
My son’s hobby grew into somewhat of a passion, as he studied more and more about all the different species of fish and the environments best suited for each to thrive. He learned of community fish tanks for the “friendly fish” as well as “aggressive fish” that needed their own space; he studied about fresh water tanks as opposed to tropical fish that needed salt-water environments. He could enthusiastically recite which species were “top” swimmers, and which preferred to swim/crawl along the ocean’s depths.
Little by little, my son’s ambitions (and persuasive power) grew, as did his thorough knowledge of handling fish and their unique needs. After dutifully caring for Simcha for several months, he begged us to buy a real fish tank, fully equipped with its own heater, filter, blue gravel bottom, fish toys, etc., as well, of course, as a whole assortment of brightly colored fish.
So after several more trips to the fish store, we now have two fully equipped fish tanks, a smaller one for our aggressive, loner fish, Simcha, and one with a whole array of exotic sounding, friendly species like clown Loaches, flamingo Guppies, neon Tetras, Panda Platys, Zebra Danios and more.
Even I have to admit that I’ve become somewhat enamored by this colorful new piece of decor. Daily as I pass our fish, I find myself hypnotically observing their graceful swim around the perimeters of their tank. And as I gaze at them, I wonder about their perceptions of their home:
Do our fish realize that this twenty-gallon tank is just a miniature replica of their authentic home, in some faraway lake or sea?
Do they understand that the sea blue, pretty background gracing the back of their tank is just a cheap, printed backdrop?
Do they enjoy the food that we drop in twice daily – even though it is a freeze-dried, preserved formula meant to mimic the native food that fish hunt?
Are the heater that keeps their waters warm and the filter that cleans it properly simulating the environments of their real homes, hundreds of miles from here?
Do they discern that the plants that they play with are artificial – plastic replicas of lush, living greenery?
Of course they can’t know any of this. They can’t possibly understand how artificial their environment is, or how far from their real source they have come. This is what they’ve been born into and what they will bring their offspring into. To them this is home. This is comfortable. This is what they know. They simply cannot fathom a different, more authentic existence.
And then I thought about us.
Despite our material comforts, despite being born into our exiled circumstances, do we realize how foreign our environments are? That soon will come a time when we will be submerged in life giving waters, with a new and genuine perception of our divine source and purpose?
Life in our fish tanks might be a more or less comfortable simulation. But it’s nothing like the real thing.