Conversations with a Flounder Before Shabbat (Diane Elliot)

Ashira l’Yah bechayai…
I will sing to G-d with my life!
—Psalm 104

On Friday afternoon I shop for Shabbos. A pound of Strauss’ organic yogurt, two kinds of cheese, apples and oranges, two braided challah rolls. I pass the fish counter, see that there is wild-caught sockeye salmon. As the woman behind the counter wraps my half-pound, I stare at a whole flounder, bedded in ice, its two eyes on the same side of its head glazed over in death.

Suddenly I remember a conversation I once had with a flounder. It lay on the bottom of an aquarium tank in Golden Gate Park, eyes protruding above the rest of its body. As I passed the tank, the flounder’s eyes seemed to follow me. I backed up and knelt near the glass. Each time I shifted, those two strange eyes responded, following my movements in perfect synchrony. I sensed the memory of fishness in my cells communicating with the memory of humanness in the fish’s.

Back at Whole Foods, I am flooded with a kind of sadness for the stilled lives, displayed so cavalierly in silvery rows on ice, and something more – an indescribable flavor of awe. Our lives are braided like the challah dough, leavened by unseen forces, intertwined with those of creatures from the bottom of the sea and plants from other continents.

Perhaps the deepest, highest mystery of Shabbat is the transmutation of the mundane—the pink flesh of the salmon who gave its life for my meal, the green leaves of spinach and grains of rice, a pungent olive soaked in vinegar. Though the taste of Atika Kadisha (the Holy Ancient One) eludes me like a soupçon of an unknown spice in a casserole, my eyes track the movement, awakening memory, and something in my cells jumps up and runs forward to greet.

B’chol yom yim’tz’u sha-arei t’vunah, b’yomi nif’t’chu me-ah sh’arim
“On regular days they will discover gates of understanding; on my day, 100
gates will be opened.”
----Avraham ibn Ezra, “Igeret ha-Shabbat” ("Letter from Shabbat")

From Selections from Raza di Shabbat (Secret of Shabbat):
Raza Shlishi (Third Secret). Used with permission of the author.
Diane Elliot is a rabbinical student and instructor in Conscious Movement.

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