Hillary’s Gefilte Fish
Parshat Vayeshev 5780
Of all the tens of thousands of emails that were released from Hillary Clinton’s private email account a few years ago, the one I find most interesting has two words in the subject line: Gefilte Fish.
While the subject line of the email Hillary sent on March 5, 2010, to her deputy chief of staff, Jake Sullivan, and her department’s liaison to Congress, Richard Verma, is very specific, the body of the email couldn’t be more vague. It is only five words long: Where are we on this?
So where was Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton holding on the gefilte fish issue? Was she looking for new recipes (perhaps a low-carb option as Bill has been on a diet ever since he left the White House)? Was she hoping to get gefilte fish on the menu of an upcoming state dinner celebrating the rapidly deteriorating relationship between Bibi and Barack Hussein?
The truth is that Hillary was actually dealing with an international crisis primarily revolving around gefilte fish. It didn’t only involve her, President Barack Obama weighed in on the issue too, in answering a question about discussions with Israel, when he said he was looking forward to, “fruitful discussion of all issues, including the gefilte fish.” But in order to understand that whole story we need some background, and for that we’re gonna need to rewind quite a bit and zoom in on fish farms in Arkansas in the 1970’s.
The fish farms were dealing with a problem that happens when you raise fish in a self-contained body of water. After a while, the water gets really polluted. Everything the fish let out of their bodies has nowhere to go, and settles on the lakebed. This not only pollutes the water, but causes the growth of algae, which can be so rapid that the algae begin to choke the entire lake’s biodiversity. So how do you stop algae growth? There are many different methods, but the fish farmers in Arkansas decided to go with carp. Asian carp (which is a general name referring to many different species of carp) are voracious eaters that can eat up to 20% of their body weight each day, with the grass carp eating up to 40% of its body weight in one day! They can grow to be 100 pounds, (can you imagine eating 20 pounds of food per day!) and they gladly eat the algae that the farmers were struggling to remove. It seemed like a match made in heaven.
But it wasn’t, it was more like a hundred billion dollar error. When flooding occurred in Arkansas in the late 70’s, some of the carp got out of the fish farms and into the wild, and that’s when the chaos began. With no natural predators in the US, and with females spawning over a half a million eggs at a time, the growth in carp populations was astonishingly quick. And everywhere the carp went, it ate away its competition. It didn’t necessarily eat other fish (although it has been known to snack on other fish from time to time), it just ate all the food the other fish need to survive. Besides eating algae, carp love to eat plankton, the tiny organisms that so many other small fish rely on to survive. But as the carp vacuumed up all the food sources, other species of fish began to disappear.
At the present, carp makes up 97% of the biomass of parts of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers! While the carp population has already destroyed all the competition in those rivers, the real danger is that the carp will get into the Great Lakes, from where they could decimate the fish populations which support the four billion dollar a year fishing industry in the Great Lakes. Extreme efforts have been put in place to stop the carp from coming to the Great Lakes, from multiple electric fences designed to kill any carp trying to swim upstream into the Great Lakes to an $18 Billion, twenty five year plan to build physical barriers in every river that leads into the Great Lakes. In the meantime, carp DNA and eggs have already been found in the Great Lakes…
As you can imagine, the US is eager to get rid of its carp populations. The best solution would be if they could turn carp into an economically viable product. Mankind has managed to overfish just about every economically viable fish out there, and if there was a market for carp, you could expect the fishing industry to industrially remove carp from our waterways. But Americans don’t generally want to eat carp. It has a lot of bones, the flesh is a bit rough, and it is described as having a muddy taste. Asians on the other hand like Asian carp, but they have plenty (duh! It’s called Asian carp for a reason!) and while there is some market as an export to Asia, it’s not huge. So who wants carp? Jews! We put the carp in our gefilte fish, where it’s deboned already, and mixed with other ingredients and flavorings that help smooth out the texture and flavor issues. So what makes perfect sense is for the US to export massive quantities of carp to Israel.
That is exactly what happened in February-March of 2010 when Schafer Fisheries in Illinois sent 400,000 pounds of carp to Israel, destined for factories that would turn it into Kosher for Pesach gefilte fish. The challenge was that Israel decided to slap a tariff on carp imported from the US (US-Israeli relations were not at a high point at that time), which made the factories refuse to pick up the carp that would now cost more than double the price, which made the 400,000 pounds of carp sit quietly and unloved in the port of Israel. This caused Schafer Fisheries, who the US government was pushing to process as much carp as possible, to actually slow down operations and fire nine workers.
It was this crisis that Hillary Rodham Clinton was dealing with in her Gefilte Fish email. After Hillary’s intervention, and her top level discussions with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the tariff was removed, 400,00 pounds of carp made its way through Israeli factories and into Gefilte Fish, and President Obama got a healthy serving of Gefilte Fish at the annual White House Passover Seder. Once again, in its own quiet way, gefilte fish saves the day!!!
What’s fascinating is how quickly an invasive species was able to decimate the entire biodiversity of waterways that thrived with dozens of species of slow-growing tasty fish for thousands of years! In just thirty years they destroyed the native populations of trout, mussels, catfish, and many more species. And all it took was just a few fish getting into the waterways to jump start this catastrophic invasion that we’re now spending billions each year trying to stem!
This perhaps explains the extreme tenacity displayed by the Maccabees when fighting off the Greeks. To many, the battle was baffling. At first the Greeks didn’t ask for much, they just wanted their customs and deities to be displayed alongside the Jewish ones; bring a few Greek deities into the Temple, people could choose what they wanted to worship. They didn’t tear down our temple, they just built a massive Greek gymnasium alongside it. It wasn’t until after Jewish resistance intensified that they started making Draconian laws forbidding the study of Torah and targeting specific mitzvos. What was the big deal? The Jews had faced so many adversaries who wanted to wipe them off the map, and finally a conquering nation is willing to coexist with them, and the Jews make a violent rebellion?
But the Maccabees and the Kohanim who led them understood that once the Greek philosophy got into the Jewish way of life, even in small areas, and alongside the Jewish customs and philosophies it would aggressively start taking over the Jewish mindset and cause immense destruction to the Jewish people. It might grow very quickly, as indeed the Greek Empire did, but it would also fade fast, as indeed the Greek Empire did.
We are here today as proud Jews because the Maccabees protected Jewish people from the invasive species of Greek philosophy. The Greek philosophy, so centered on man and his needs, wants, accomplishments, and beauty, when allowed to invade would have torn away the Jewish philosophy, so centered on G-dliness, and on taking care of other’s needs and wants. And in reality it did destroy many millions of Jewish families who Hellenized, became like the Greeks, and who unfortunately do not have descendants in the Jewish people, the people that outlived the Greeks by more than two thousand years.
The Menorah is the ultimate example of this idea, the importance of keeping our life pure from invasive philosophy. The only oil allowed for the menorah was (Exodus:27:20) “Shemen zayis zach, pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually.” The Menorah which represents Jewish wisdom, that which lights up the Jewish world, can only come from the purest of oil, and only in that way will it be able to last continually. Once it gets diluted it loses its continuity and faces decimation.
What the Greeks so sought to destroy, was the concept of the oil needing to be pure and unadulterated. They didn’t mind the oil or the Menorah, they just had a problem with the purity and the Jewish unwillingness to blend their wisdom with Greek wisdom. They left oil all over the temple, but only after they broke the seal of purity. But the Maccabees struggled to find the pure oil, and that was what led to the miracle, the light burned continually, because the light was pure.
On Chanukah as we light the Menora and stare into its soft and pure flames, let us think about what shapes our worldview. Are we allowing outside perspectives and philosophies to dilute our Jewish beliefs, customs, and lifestyles, or are we lionized with Maccabee strength to hold onto the pure Jewish wisdom and light that enabled our people to be the one race on this world that despite all the darkness “kindles the lamps continually?”
This year, let’s ensure that we are the pure olive oil upon which the Jewish people will continue to burn from this Chanukah on to eternity!
Parsha Dvar Torah
In the end of this week’s Parsha, we find Yosef, stuck in an Egyptian jail. There, with G-d’s help, he deciphers the dreams of two of the prisoners. He tells the king’s butler that he will be returned to his position, while telling the baker that he will be hung (both of which come true immediately). As the king’s butler is about to be returned to his position, Yosef tells him, ” But remember me when things go well with you. Please deal kindly with me, and mention me to Pharaoh, and take me out of this house.” (Gen. 40:14)
We find that Rashi later comments that for a man of Yosef’s stature to put so much faith in a human being to get him out of prison was considered a sin (because he should have had more faith in G-d to get him out when the time was right) and for that Yosef was punished with two more years. As Rashi says on verse 23: “Because Yoseif depended on him (the butler) to remember him it necessitated his remaining imprisoned for two years, as is stated: “Fortunate is the man who has made G-d his trust, and has not turned to the arrogant.” [I.e.,] and does not put his trust in the Egyptians who are called arrogant.”
Rabbenu Bachaye states that Yosef had two requests, mention me to Pharaoh and and take me out of here. Because of that he was punished with two years. It is said that R’ Chaim of Brisk once asked R’ Shimon Skopp the following question “If Yosef made only one request mention me to Pharaoh, how long would he have sat in prison?” R’ Shimon answered that Yosef would have only sat for one year. R’ Chaim of Brisk, said “no, he would not have gone to prison at all, because even a tzaddik (a righteous person) who knows that everything comes from G-d, needs to show some hishtadlus, some physical effort to get what he needs, and cannot sit around waiting for G-d to make miracles for him all the time.
But if that is the case, that even Yosef should have made one request, and instead he made two, he should have only had to sit in prison for one year? The answer is that had Yosef asked only once, it would have been evident that he is one who puts his full faith in G-d, but in order to not sit around waiting for a miracle, which is something we are not allowed to do, he did his hishtadlus, his required effort, and the rest he left to G-d. However once he does more than his required effort, we see that everything he did was not to fulfill his requirement but out of a desire to get human help, and then he can be held accountable for each request.
A practical way to understand this is to look at people and their careers. Why should a person abandon his children and spouse to go to work? Isn’t our most important job in this world to be good parents and spouses? The only proper answer is that he or she needs money to help support their family, and maybe also to be able to give charity. However, when a person starts working very long hours, way beyond the time needed to support his family comfortably and give charity, we see that he wants the money for money’s sake. Once you realize that, you understand that even the hours that he works that are required to support aren’t being done for the proper reason, and the biggest proof is that he doesn’t stop when he should.
The same applies to Yosef, once he made two requests we see that even the first request was for the wrong reason, because had it been for the right reason he would have stopped there. This lesson applies in many areas of life. It can be the strictness we use to discipline our children, the amount of time we work, or the way we interact with family members. We may tell ourselves that we are doing it for one reason, but if we see we are going too far to fit the aforementioned reason, chances are, we need to rethink our entire approach to the issue.
This week’s Parsha sort of breaks new ground by beginning to discuss in depth the lives of people other than the patriarchs. Now we start to talk about the lives of their children, the Twelve Tribes. This week’s Parsha begins with the tense relationship between Yosef and his siblings. He felt they were doing certain things wrong, and told his father about it. The brothers became angry with him. Then he had two dreams, the gist of which were that all the brothers were bowing down to him, and these dreams further infuriated the brothers as they felt he was trying to force his rule over them.
One time when Yosef was sent to check on them, while they were tending sheep in Shechem, they made an ad hoc court and condemned him to death for what they felt were serious crimes. Reuven persuaded them out of it, convincing them to throw him into a pit instead. Reuven’s plans was to come back and get Yosef out, but while Reuven went back to serve his father, Yehuda convinced the brothers to sell Yosef to a passing caravan of Ismaelites. Yosef was traded from one group to the next until eventually he was bought by Potiphar, the Chamberlain of Pharaoh.
The brothers brought back Yosef’s tunic to their father covered in blood, which made Yaakov believe that his son was killed by a wild animal. He was deeply grieved and no one was able to properly console him. At this point, Yehuda fell out of favor in the eyes of his brothers for his role in the sale of Yosef, so he moves away from them. In his new land, he marries and builds a family. Through an interesting twist of events, Yehuda ends up living with someone, who he thought was someone else, and one of the resulting offspring ends up being the ancestor of King David and by definition, Moshiach.
In the meantime, Yosef runs into some trouble at his new workplace. He is enormously successful as a servant and soon Potiphar’s house is being run by Yosef. However Potiphar’s wife was attracted to Yosef who was very beautiful and she tried daily to seduce him. Finally one day when everyone was at a pagan festival she came home and tried to force herself onto him. He ran out leaving his coat in her hands. She made a big stink claiming that it was Yosef who tried to force himself onto her, and Yosef gets thrown into jail.
Even in jail he wass very successful and soon he was in charge of the whole jail. One day he notices two of his fellow inmates, the royal butler and baker look depressed. He asked them what was wrong and they said that they had dreams they couldn’t interpret. Yosef interprets them both properly. The Parsha concludes with Yosef asking the butler to remind Pharaoh about his, and to get him out of jail, however the butler totally forget Yosef for two years! That’s all Folks!
Quote of the week: Who is more foolish, the child afraid of the dark, or an adult afraid of the light? ~ Maurice Freehill
Random Fact of the Week: The average bank teller loses about $250 a year!
Funny Line of the Week: Cloud nine gets all the publicity, but cloud eight actually is cheaper, less crowded, and has a better view.
Have a Glowing Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham