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Fins and Scales!

The ruling about kosher fish comes from The Torah.

Leviticus 11:9-12 “Among all [creatures] that are in the water, you may eat these: Any [of the creatures] in the water that has fins and scales, those you may eat, whether [it lives] in the waters, in the seas or in the rivers”. And in Deuteronomy 14:9-10, “But whatever does not have fins and scales, you shall not eat; it is unclean for you”.

The Talmud states: “All [fish] that have scales also have fins [and are thus kosher]; there are [fish] that have fins but do not have scales [and are thus unkosher].”

Hold it Right There.. 

This raises two questions: First, why are fins and scales the characteristics that distinguish kosher fish? Second, as the Talmud itself asks, why are fins presented as an identifying sign for kosher fish when they are redundant, since scaled fish inevitably have fins as well?

Food's Force

The Kabbalah teaches that the physical attributes of fish, and of all animals, reflect their psychological and spiritual qualities. It further explains that the food a person consumes has a profound effect on his/her psyche. Therefore, when one eats the flesh of a particular creature, the “personality” of that creature affects the person in some way.

Drive And Direction

On September 11, 1941, the Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote in his journal: As the armor that protects the body of the fish, scales represent the quality of integrity, which protects us from the many pitfalls that life presents. Integrity means that one has absolute standards of right and wrong and is committed to a morality that transcends one’s moods and desires. Integrity preserves our souls from temptation.

Fins, the wing-like organs that propel fish forward, represent ambition. A healthy sense of ambition, knowing one’s strengths and wanting to utilize them in full, gives a person the impetus to traverse the turbulent sea of life and to maximize his/her G-d-given potential. It propels us to fulfill our dreams and leave our unique imprint on the world.

On the other hand, the Talmud tells us that all fish with scales have fins. While integrity is fundamental, ambition is also important. By mentioning fins as one of the signs of a kosher fish, the Torah teaches us that it is not enough to maintain our own integrity, we must also have a positive effect on the world. The lesson of the Talmud is that if we teach our children to approach life with awe before truth, with an unyielding commitment to serve a transcendent, moral G-d, they will certainly succeed and develop “fins” as well. Regardless of their other abilities, they will find the drive to improve themselves and to make the world a better place.

By Rabbi YY Jacobson 

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