Realizing that his death was not far off, Jacob gave his grandchildren, the sons of Joseph, the following blessing:
“May [God] bless the lads, and let them carry my name, along with the name of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac. May they increase like fish in the land.” (Gen. 48:16)
Yes, fish have astonishingly large families. But so do frogs and many other animals. Why were Joseph’s children blessed to be like fish?
Furthermore, the phrase “increase like fish in the land” sounds like a very mixed-up metaphor. Fish do not thrive on land; they certainly do not increase there! What kind of blessing is this?
The Talmud (Berachot 55b) explains that Joseph shared a special quality with fish:
“The fish in the waters are concealed by the water, and thus not susceptible to the Evil Eye. So too, the descendants of Joseph are not susceptible to the Evil Eye.”
What does it mean that Joseph was immune to the Evil Eye like the fish?
We explained previously that the Evil Eye is an example of hidden influences that exist between souls. An environment of jealousy and hatred can poison not only the atmosphere but also the soul against whom they are directed. This, however, is only true for weaker souls that are easily influenced. The Evil Eye can only harm those whose sense of self-worth is not fully developed, people who need to live their lives in a way that meets the approval of foreign ‘eyes.’ But if we are secure within ourselves, and our life is focused on our inner truths, then we will not be susceptible to the Evil Eye of those around us. The Evil Eye has no power over those whose robust sense of self-esteem does not let others dictate what is important and worthwhile.
Why are fish immune to the Evil Eye?
Fish are not concerned with envious eyes above the water. They live in their own world below the surface, a secluded realm that determines the direction of their lives. Like the fish, Joseph remained faithful to his inner convictions, despite the external pressures and influences of his roller-coaster life. Family estrangement, a foreign land, a foreign culture, temptations, slavery and imprisonment — none of these succeeded in leading Joseph astray. Even when he needed to contend with the hardest test of all — the incredible success, wealth, and power as Egyptian viceroy — Joseph was steadfast in his beliefs and inner convictions. Joseph remained true to his own inner world, despite his active participation in a vastly different outer world.
Just like a “fish in the land.”
(Gold from the Land of Israel pp. 93-94. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, pp. 275-276)