In the morning of the world, says an old Jewish Legend, the vast seas were empty except for the huge bulk of the monster Leviathan, lurking at the bottom of the ocean. He was a king without subjects until the Angel of Death was sent to populate the seas by drowning one member of every species of land creature and transforming it into a fish.
The fox determined that he would outsmart the Angel of Death and cheat the Leviathan. As he sat on a bank beside the sea, contemplating his watery future and wondering how he could escape it, his reflection gave him his cue just as the shadow of Death fell upon him.
Instantly, the fox burst into tears and loud lamentations.
"Why do you cry, Fox?" asked the Angel, impatient to get on with his work.
"I am mourning my friend," said the fox, sobbing. "As your shadow passed over him, he threw himself into the sea in his haste to join the Leviathan's legions. There he is now." The fox waved sadly at the creature in the water who waved sadly back at him.
"Good, good," said the Angel, and flew away.
All went well for the fox until a year later when his deception was discovered by Leviathan himself. During the counting of the fish, he realized that there was no fox fish among them. Displeased, Leviathan lashed his dragon-tail through the waters, demanding to know why. The timid parrot fish told how the fox had tricked the Angel of Death.
"Bring me the fox alive," the Leviathan commanded the catfish. "I wish to eat his heart and thereby gain his cleverness. Tell him that I am dying and wish to make him King of the Fish in my place."
The catfish soon found the fox, and told him Leviathan's story. Proud of the honor, the fox hurried onto the catfish's back.
On the long journey, the fox had time to reflect and wondered if he had not been tricked. "O Catfish, now that I can't escape, tell me what the real purpose of this trip is," said the fox. The catfish revealed the Leviathan's plan with great satisfaction. Fox was not so clever after all, he thought.
"My heart!" cried the fox. "He wants to eat my heart! Now you are in trouble for I haven't got it with me. Why didn't you tell me while there was still time? Didn't you know that we foxes never carry our precious hearts with us? It is back home, safe in my burrow."
The fox suggested they return to shore to retrieve the heart. When they reached land, however, the fox jumped off and scampered away, jeering at the catfish's stupidity. The catfish hid beneath the bank, where he remained, afraid to face the wrath of the Leviathan. The fox has never returned to the shore, which is why to this day there are no fox fish in the sea.