Perhaps the most important lesson which we ought take from the story of the supposedly “talking fish” is for us to realize the great speed with which even the most absurd and outlandish story can be spread to all corners of the world, and how easily it can gain thousands of ardent believers. With today’s modern electronic gadgets such as the telephone, radio, e-mail, and fax machine, words can travel more than seven times around the world in less than a second, and the damage they can cause is absolutely frightful.
If a story based on the incredible and the supernatural can spread and travel so quickly, gaining thousands of believers, how much quicker and easier can general gossip or malicious slander captivate the fertile minds of the unwary and curious, that are eager to swallow whatever they are fed, no matter how unbelievable it may be. While the belief or disbelief in the tall fish tale is inconsequential, the damage done by spreading slander or gossip can be devastating. It can ruin reputations, destroy a person’s business – and many a time can even be considered outright murder.
Just spread a rumor that someone’s son or daughter was arrested for dealing drugs, and you can bet the story will spread far and wide, even if the person doesn’t have a son or daughter. In fact, no matter how much the person will deny the charges, and no matter how preposterous the claims may be, there will always be some people that will believe the story. The myth that has been spread that Jews use Christian blood for the Passover matzos has been responsible for the death of thousands. The malicious slander contained in the book “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” has caused the murder of millions of Jews.
Just think back at how many times we have believed some of the gossip making the rounds in the community, only to find out later that there was no truth to it. How often have we read slanderous articles in the newspapers, only to read retractions a few days later. Most of the stories may not have caused any harm, but from time to time they can can be quite devastating. Look what happened to Dovid Ha’melech when people spread false accusations against him.
Unfortunately, people seem ready to believe even the most ridiculous stories, no matter how absurd or impossible. That so many people fell for the fish story, hook, line and sinker goes to prove how gullible people are and how easily we accept even the supernatural and bizarre.
The Torah requires us to constantly remember what happened to the great prophetess Miriam, Moshe Rabbeinu’s sister, who was punished with tzoraas for making a slightly derogatory remark about her beloved brother. She failed to understand why Moshe was not living with his wife and wanted to help the marriage. Despite her good intentions, she was punished for what she said.
When Moshe Rabbeinu found out that people had spread the story that he had killed an Egyptian taskmaster for having hit a defenseless Jew, he wondered if this was the reason for our exile in Egypt.(See Rashi.) Can it be that our present long and dark exile has anything to do with this horrific sin?
Loshon Horah and Hotzoas Shem Ra have killed more people than the deadliest weapons. Let’s always remember, “Life and death is in the power of the tongue.” (Mishlei ) Perhaps this is the lesson we ought take from the fish!