By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman
Towards the end of this week’s Torah portion (Shmeinei [Leviticus] 9:1-11:47), the Torah discusses the laws of Kashrut and the various anatomical “signs” which indicate which animals and fish are kosher.
Two characteristics render aquatic creatures fit for consumption “This may you eat from everything that is in the water: everything that has fins and scales.”
Beyond its meaning as a literal commandment, this verse is laden with symbolism. The Torah here outlines two fundamental guidelines for kosher Torah interpretation and Jewish innovation.
Scales primarily serve to protect fish from the elements, to keep their bones and bodies intact. The function of fins, on the other hand, is to facilitate marine travel. They allow fish to lift, thrust, and steer themselves through water, to advance beyond their current station.
The same is true regarding the navigation of Torah’s waters. A kosher Torah scholar and commentator is one with both fins (creativity) and scales (integrity). Without either one, his or her work is unfit for consumption. This applies as well to editors of the myriad Jewish-content magazines, websites, and pod-casts. They must think out-of-the-box but within the books, and be careful to lose nothing in translation.
And the same is true of the Jewish community’s innovators, activists, and policy-makers. They must recognize the need for fresh and forward thinking and at the same time be deeply committed to the integrity of Jewish tradition. They must break ground without breaking bounds; be all the rage but not New Age. They must be protective and progressive—and in that order. Only then can we benefit from the wisdom and direction that they offer.
The Jewish home, as well, needs to maintain this constant balance of integrity and keeping proper adherence to Jewish tradition and values and yet allow for adaptation to modern-day developments and technological advancements. Just by way of example – before succumbing to having internet at home, one must ascertain that the proper safeguards are in place so that the internet and what it offers will not impose in any way on proper Jewish values or compromise Jewish moral integrities.
For as our turbulent history demonstrates, the key to Jewish survival in the oceans of time has
been our ability to be both traditional and modern, classic and current, conservative and liberal; fashioned from the old, but not old-fashioned.
Without a doubt, it is our Jewish “fins” and “scales” that have kept us fresh and kosher to this very day.
(Excerpts from Chabad.org - by Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson)