Visitors to Eilat on the last day of Passover were shocked to see the world’s largest fish swimming calmly off the coast of the Holy Land.
The week-long Passover holiday is a time for Israelis to tour their country. Visitors to Eilat go for the beautiful beaches and the coral reefs. But on Friday, visitors to the Almog Coral Beach Nature Reserve witnessed a rare sighting of a whale shark: the largest fish in the world.
The whale shark is a slow-moving, filter-feeding shark and the largest known fish species with the largest shark measuring 62 feet long. Like whales, whale sharks filter the seawater for plankton and small fish but unlike whales which are air-breathing cetaceans, whale sharks have five sets of gills. Found in open waters of the tropical oceans, whale sharks are rarely found in the water below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite its size, the whale shark does not pose any danger to humans.
The last day of Passover has end-of-days significance for the Chabad branch of Hasidic Judaism. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the third rabbi of the Chabad movement who passed away in 1866 and is known as the Tzemach Tzedek, explained the special meaning.
The last day of Pesach is our festival commemorating the final redemption, when the Holy One, Blessed be He, will redeem us from the last exile through our righteous Moshiach, who is the final redeemer. The first day of Pesach is Moshe Rabbeinu’s festival; the last day of Pesach is Moshiach’s festival.
Large fish have a special place in Jewish end-of-days traditions. A section of the Talmud (the Oral Law) describes the post-Messianic role of a large fish called the Leviathan. In the Tractate of Baba Batra 75a, it is written that God originally produced a male and a female Leviathan. God became concerned that in multiplying, the species would destroy the world. God killed the female Leviathan, preserving her flesh for the special banquet that will be given to the righteous on the arrival of the Messiah. The banquet will be held inside a huge tent made from the Leviathan’s skin.
This midrash (homiletic teaching) is the source of an unusual blessing recited during the holiday of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), in which we recite upon leaving the sukkah (tabernacle): “May it be your will, Lord our God and God of our forefathers, that just as I have fulfilled and dwelt in this sukkah, so may I merit in the coming year to dwell in the sukkah of the skin of Leviathan. Next year in Jerusalem.”
The Tikunei Zohar (Tinyanya Tikkun 43), an esoteric book attributed to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in the first century CE, explains that this increase of fish signifies a specific stage of the Messianic process, in which the Messiah from the House of Joseph and the Messiah of the house of David, two separate stages, join together.
The Messiah from the house of Joseph is a practical building up of the land that precedes a miraculous period, Messiah from the House of David, which includes the building of the Temple. The period ushered in by the appearance of fish is described as a period of hamtakat hadinim (sweetening of the judgments), symbolized by the fish’s ability to make seawater potable.
Sightings of whale sharks in Eilat are rare but not unheard of. A similar whale shark was sighted two years ago.