Text of the Fox and the Fish
The great Talmudic sage, Rabbi Akiva, lived under the cruel yolk of Roman oppression. Despite the mortal peril, he brazenly defied the Roman ban on studying and teaching Torah. He once used the following parable about a fox to explain why he did so:
A hungry fox once trotted alongside a river teeming with fish. He watched as, suddenly, the fish anxiously dispersed at an alarming pace. “What’s going on?” he called to the fish. “The fisherman is coming with his nets!” came a gargled reply. “I’ve got an idea!” the crafty fox hollered. “Leap out of the water and join me on the riverbank. There are no nets here.” “You’re not so bright, are you?” came the scornful reply. “If we remain here, we may or may not get caught. But if we leave the water, we will certainly expire!”
“The Romans may or may not take my life,” Rabbi Akiva concluded. “But I cannot abandon Torah, like a fish cannot forsake the water.”
The Torah is our life
The Torah is God’s divine plan for human beings. It guides us how to live our lives. How to act. Ethical rules to live by. A classic example are the Ten Commandments.
And so, when the Romans forbid Torah study, it was horrible. Who could survive without Torah? Or as in the parable with the fish and the fox, the fish would die out of the water. The water is their life. Just like the Torah is our life. The Torah connects us with God, who is the source of life. It also gives us life by guiding us how to live. So when the Romans banned studying Torah, the only choice for life was to continue living a Torah life. Just like the fish, in order to have any chance at survival, had to stay in the water.