Lobsters and Salmon

The Talmud states that if the Torah had not been given to us, we would have been obligated to learn certain desirable behaviors from the observation of wildlife (Eruvin 100b). I would like to add two important observations to those listed in the Talmud.

I came across an article, “How Do Lobsters Grow?” That whetted my curiosity. How do lobsters grow? After all, lobsters are soft animals that live inside a rigid, inflexible shell. How can they grow?

The article explained that as a lobster grows, the rigid shell becomes very confining, and it feels oppressed. The lobster then hides under a rock-formation to protect it from predatory fish, and sheds its shell. It then produces a larger, more spacious shell in which it feels comfortable.

However, as the lobster grows, this new shell eventually becomes too confining and oppressive, so the lobster repeats the process. Off with the restricting shell, producing a more spacious one. This process is repeated until the lobster reaches its maximum size.

So much for the article, but the lesson is that it is the discomfort that causes the lobster to shed the oppressive shell, and allows it to grow. Just think what would happen if a lobster had access to a doctor! It would complain of discomfort and get a pill to relieve it. With the discomfort gone, the lobster would never shed its shell and would not grow, dying as a tiny lobster!

Medical science has produced a variety of nostrums to relieve discomfort. But should every discomfort be eliminated by a pill or even by psychological techniques? The discomfort may be a signal that it is time that we shed those restrictions that prevent us from growing in character. Yes, there are indeed some psychiatric conditions that may require medication, but our culture has become intolerant of all discomfort, and we neglect the signals that tell us it is time to grow.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch says that the words some’ach (happy) and tzome’ach (growth) are almost identical, which tells us that we achieve happiness through growth. So much for lobsters.

I visited a salmon fishery on the west coast. Salmon are hatched up the river, then they swim into the ocean, where they grow. Finally, they swim upstream, against the tide, to the place where they were hatched, where they lay their eggs. When they come to a cascade, they jump over it. If the jump fails, they swim around a bit to restore their energy, then try to jump over the cascade again. If they fail, they keep trying until they succeed.

What a lesson! When you have a goal, you fight the current to get there, and if you encounter obstacles, you keep trying to overcome them until you succeed. There is no quitting. The salmon never quits because no one has told it that the effort it made was enough.

These lessons from lobsters and salmon can assure us success in life. Don’t seek to escape every discomfort. Think of discomfort as a signal that it’s time to grow. Set your goal in life, and strive to get there. Don’t let obstacles stop you.

Television is a poor teacher. Let salmon and lobsters be your teachers.