There was once a water carrier who had two large buckets. One had a crack in it, while the other was as perfect as the day it was crafted. Each day the water carrier would draw water from the stream and return up the long, narrow pathway to her mistress’s house.

Each day as she made her trek, the cracked bucket would leak half its water, while the other bucket remained full, always delivering a full portion. And so it went on for years.

One day, a passerby stopped the water carrier and said, “I have been watching you for years. I don’t understand: why don’t you replace that broken bucket for once and for all? Every day it leaks precious water that you schlep all this way; why keep it?

The water carrier smiled and pointed to the side of the road. “Look at this side of the path—do you see the lush grass and beautiful flowers? Now, look at the other side—it’s nothing but gravel and dirt. I planted flowers and grass seeds on this side of the path, and every day as I return from the stream, this broken bucket waters them. Eventually, the seeds grew, and now there are beautiful flowers here for everyone to enjoy!”

Sometimes, broken is just perfect.

A Gargantuan Fight

A large part of our parshah is devoted to discussing the signs that distinguish a kosher animal. Fins and scales indicate that a fish is kosher for consumption; land animals must have both split hooves and chew their cud. Common examples of kosher fish are salmon, trout, carp, and pike. Cows, goats, and lamb are typical kosher animals.

The Midrash1 relates what seems to be a downright bizarre story about a certain giant fish (Leviathan) that will use its fins to slaughter an oversized ox (Behemoth).

The setting is in the future, when Moshiach comes:

Said Rabbi Yudan, the son of Rabbi Shimon: The Behemoth and the Leviathan will be game for the righteous in the World to Come … How are they slaughtered? The Behemoth gores the Leviathan with its horns and tears it, and the Leviathan impales the Behemoth with its fins and slaughters it.2

What is the deeper meaning of this “fight” between a giant fish and a massive bovine?

Different Paces of Travel

Kabbalah explains that the two oversized animals in this story represent two different types of Jews: The fish Jew, and the ox Jew.

What’s the difference between a fish and an ox?

Well, for starters, a fish lives in the water, whereas the ox lives on land. There are many variables this single distinction produces, and one is related to how they travel: With one powerful stroke of her fins, a fish can glide rapidly through the water. By contrast, an ox must labor with each step to cover ground at any meaningful pace, huffing and puffing as he gains speed.

This distinction symbolizes two different Jews, particularly vis-à-vis their religious approach. A fish Jew easily glides through his or her religious experiences. They pray and—boom!—they’re inspired. They study Torah, and immediately, they love it. Judaism is natural and enjoyable. They’re always ready to be in love with their Creator. One stroke, and they propel themselves forward with ease.

The ox Jew, on the other hand, has to work hard. Inspiration doesn’t come easy. To gain any meaningful momentum, they must put in a lot of hard work, step by step, and by the time they’ve achieved a trot or gallop, they’re huffing and puffing. Praying doesn’t come naturally, and studying Torah takes effort.

Who’s Better?

So, which is ideal? Surely it’s the fish Jew.

Well, yes and no. That natural love and devotion is indeed a powerful thing, and in a certain way, the fish Jew is indeed superior. That’s why, in our story from the Midrash, the Leviathan betters the ox, slaughtering him with her fins. As we examined earlier, that fin can be pretty powerful, for it propels the fish forward and onward, much like the naturally spiritual Jew who propels themselves forward with their religious devotion.

So yes, the Leviathan slaughters the ox with her fin.

But that’s not the end of the story. Yes, the Leviathan slices the ox with her fin, but not before the ox gores her with his horns.

What that means is that the ox Jew is also important, and his path is just as necessary. It may be more laborious and doesn’t come as easy, but it’s super valuable. The ox’s struggling path is just as critical as the fish’s spiritual path.

Who are You?

Judaism needs both types of Jews. Those who easily connect, and those who struggle to get there. Regardless which category you think you fall into, your work is critical.

So if you’ve seen people who are more naturally spiritually attuned than you, don’t sweat it. Judaism isn’t only for the spiritual-minded, or for those who more easily connect to the experience.

Here the Midrash tells us that not everyone was destined to be a fish Jew, and that’s quite alright. There’s a whole cohort of ox Jews, and their work is just as valuable. In fact, they even get the best of the fish—because G‑d values the struggle and the effort an average Jew puts in every day.

So whether you’re a fish Jew or an ox Jew, keep doing what you’re doing. G‑d treasures both.3