Today’s daf (Sukkah 18a) contains two teachings of Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai which seem totally unrelated – other than the fact that they use similar language.
In terms of the first, we are told that, ‘Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai taught: “Where the roof of a house was breached and s’chach was placed over the opening, it is kosher”. Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rabbi Yossi said to him, “Teacher, please explain more!” to which Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai responded, “This is how my father explained it: ‘If [the gap between the breech with the s’chach and the wall of the house] is more than four amot, it is invalid, whereas if it is less than four amot, it is kosher.’”
Whereas in terms of the second we are told that, ‘Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai taught: “The Avruma fish is permitted [notwithstanding the fact that it is hard to distinguish between this and other non-kosher fish]”. Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rabbi Yossi said to him, “Teacher, please explain more!” to which Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai responded, “This is what my father said, ‘If [Avruma fish are caught] in a particular part of a river [where similar looking non-kosher fish reside] it is forbidden, whereas [Avruma] from another location in a river are permitted.’”
Clearly, both teachings employ a similar literary structure, but beyond this, what is the connection between the kashrut of a sukkah and where fish is caught?
To explain, we should take a moment to consider the many details of the sukkah and the fact that while – as I explained in my commentary on yesterday’s daf – the laws of Sukkah involve a broad range of halachic ‘compromises’ where we imagine walls both bending and stretching, nevertheless such compromises are only possible within a certain distance (i.e. 4 amot) between a wall and the s’chach. What this means is that notwithstanding these compromises, there are still a number of absolutes in terms of where a person needs to be located, where the s’chach is, and where the walls are which are critical to validating or invalidating the sukkah experience.
Upon reflecting on all these rules, a person may get exasperated about why location matters so much and why a small change in where a person, a wall, or the s’chach is makes all the difference in terms of validating or invalidating the sukkah experience. In response to this, we are told about fish, and how some fish are kosher and some are not, and how different currents in different locations enable the flow of different fish. And having understood this, we can then understand the laws of sukkah which, on a spiritual level, is all about tapping into the flow of the ‘tziluta dim’hemanuta’ – the protective shade of faith, as represented by the s’chach (see Zohar Emor 103a).
Finally, it should be pointed out that our Sages (see Bava Batra 75a) speak of a time at the end of days when ‘the Holy One, Blessed be He, will make a sukkah for the righteous from the hide of the Leviathan’ (i.e. a huge fish). Significantly, while some understand this literally, many understand this metaphorically. But what could this mean?
Based on what we have explained above, I would like to suggest that it means that the ultimate spiritual reality is when we are fully tapped into the flow of the entire universe, such that what we physically do is representative of what we spiritually experience – at which time we will truly understand the meaning behind every detail of Jewish law and comprehend how each enables us to exist beneath the ‘tziluta dim’hemanuta’ – the protective shade of faith.