We are quite sure that many of you have never heard of the word "Symbiosis," and don't know what "to make of it." But don't be downhearted. No one will ask you about it, most probably; and there are certainly more important words in the vocabulary than "symbiosis."
But what is Symbiosis? It is a word that can best be explained by a complete phrase:-"The living together of two separate types of creatures." It is a word made up of two Greek words:-Sym-"together" (as in Sympathy -"feeling together"), and Biosis-"living." In other words - living together. When two entirely different creatures form a "partnership" and live together for the benefit of both, this partnership is called Symbiosis.
Generally speaking, one creature keeps company with another member of its own kind. Men socialize with men, animals with animals, birds with birds, etc. Even in the same species of animals, one animal seeks out its own group. There is an English saying: "Birds of a feather flock together." Geese stay with geese, chickens with chickens, ravens with ravens, etc.
It happens, however, and this is one of the wonders of nature, that two absolutely different creatures form a "brotherly" partnership, and become inseparable friends.
We do not mean the friendship that sometimes exists between a dog and a cat that .grow up together. We mean a partnership that has existed since the beginning of time.
What kind of partners can a rhinoceros and a little bird be, one would think? A rhinoceros is a huge beast, heavy as an elephant, with a horn or two sticking out of its nose; and a bird is a bird. Yet, you will seldom see a rhinoceros (you're lucky that you don't meet one) without a few small birds on its back.
What, you will ask, are small birds doing on the back of this huge beast? Aren't they able to fly over trees and fields that they have to sit on the hard skin of this beast?
Here we have a perfect example of Symbiosis; a partnership between two absolutely different (and how different) types of creatures! The story is as follows: In the creases and cracks of the rhinoceros's skin small insects creep around, and the little birds feed on them. Needless to say, the rhinoceros is happy that the birds rid him of these nuisances, the insects in his skin.
Apart from this, the birds serve the rhinoceros in another remarkable manner: The rhinoceros is shortsighted, and he is unable to notice any danger lurking in the distance. It is true that most of the other beasts have the highest regard for the rhinoceros's huge frame, and especially for his horns; only a very hungry tiger or lion would dare to attack a rhinoceros, and only very rarely; the biggest enemy of the rhinoceros is Man, who hunts him with a high-powered rifle for "sport". At any rate, the birds notice or feel the danger before their "boss" does, and raise the alarm, warning the rhinoceros of the imminent danger and then, Heaven help the one who arouses this wild beast!
The rhinoceros has another steady companion - a tall-legged bird like a stork, called an "Egret," He walks around under the feet of the rhinoceros (see picture), and feeds on the flies and grasshoppers that the rhinoceros kicks up from the grass with his heavy hooves. This is mainly a one-sided deal, as the egret is the one who gains.
Let us take a look at a shark (if you can catch it), for example. The best place to see one is in an Aquarium, such as the one in Miami, Florida. This aquarium is one of the largest, and is world famous, It is a huge tank a few stories high, surrounded by thick glass, and inside, large fish swim around, Through the thick glass one can see a huge shark swimming around, quick as a torpedo. He is always accompanied by small fish, who are called "pilots." It was once thought that these little fish direct the shark to its food. The truth is, that they accompany the shark in order to eat the remains of whatever the shark leaves over after "finishing off." another big fish, and tearing it to bits. Remarkable to note that the shark does not harm his small companions, who actually feel safe under the protection of such a huge fish, The shark, apparently, gains nothing from this "partnership," besides having some company. Even more surprising, are the sharks' other companions. These are large and long fish who actually attach themselves to the shark, and swim along with him. These fish have a certain skin on their heads that works like a suction pump, with which they attach themselves to the shark. They detach themselves to partake of the meal left over by the "pilots," and then they reattach themselves, and become free "passengers" once more; the shark Seems to be quite friendly with these fish also!
There are also other notable cases of Symbiosis. We will, however, leave over these cases, and see what we can learn from all this, since the saintly Baal Shem Tov taught that a person can learn a lesson from everything in Creation.
There are cases of "Symbiosis" among people too. For example, a blind man forms a "partnership" with a "Seeing Eye" dog, and they become inseparable companions, who do not move away from each other. This is, of course, an exception. Generally speaking, a human being, with a superior intellect, cannot become the "partner" of an animal; the animal has to serve Man, and Man has his responsibility towards the animal, but one can surely not talk of a "partnership" between the two, much less ..comradeship." At times, however, one can meet people who are kinder to animals than to fellow man. Such "people" are included in the category of "people similar to donkeys," as our Sages commented on the verse in Genesis:-"Remain here together with the donkey." What actually is the big difference between human beings Who live only to eat and drink and seek every other bodily pleasure, and other living things? A wise man once remarked:-" A human being's intellect does not make him a person, if he uses that intellect solely as an animal uses its instincts-to satisfy its bodily needs."
Comradeship amongst Jews is considered a great virtue, but in a different aspect. " Acquire for yourself a friend" is one of the most important pieces of advice given by our Sages, of blessed memory. But the purpose is a spiritual one-to have a friend with whom to study the holy Torah, to learn from each other good traits and virtues, to have a true friend who will reproach and correct you if necessary, etc. Not all kind of partnerships are recommended by our Sages. They remarked: " A joint cooking pot is neither cold nor hot." But good friends-definitely yes! While having many partners is not always a worthwhile thing, having many good friends is regarded as being praiseworthy.
Just as one should keep company with a good friend, so should one avoid a bad person, as we pray in the morning Prayers:-" And remove us far from a bad friend." We also learn in the Torah that our father Abraham, who excelled in kindness and love for his fellow man, from whom we Jews have inherited the virtue of kindness, love, and especially love for one's fellow Jew, this same Abraham, who even put himself out to pray with all his soul for the wicked people of Sodom, still did not want to be a companion and partner with his own nephew and brother-in-law Lot, and said to him:-"Separate yourself from me."
To do another Jew a favor, whoever he may be, that is one thing; to be his friend and companion is entirely different; here one has to be very choosy. Lot allowed his shepherds to feed his cattle and sheep on other people's property; he thought that he 'was going to be Abraham's heir, and the Almighty had promised Abraham the entire land of Canaan, so he allowed himself to take other people's property. This was stealing. So he could no longer be Abraham's companion, and the kind Abraham asked him to leave him. There is no such thing as "Symbiosis" amongst Jews-no unnatural combination of good and bad, of the Tablets of Stone with a Golden Calf, of service to G‑d alongside with idolatry.
Happy are the Jewish boys and girls who attend Yeshivos and Torah true schools, who are always in the company of "their own," where the threefold idea of Love, Love of fellow Jew, Love of Torah, and Love of G‑d, pervades the atmosphere and unites them all in true friendship and comradeship.