Torah Fax

Friday, April 16, 2004 - 25 Nissan, 5764

Torah Reading: Shemini (Leviticus  9:1 - 11:47)
Candle Lighting Time: 7:18 PM
Shabbat Ends: 8:21 PM
We Bless the New Month of Iyar

The Big Fish

The Jewish dietary laws are discussed extensively in this week's parsha, where the Torah elaborates on the characteristics that determine which animals, fowl and fish are kosher and which are not.

There is a clear distinction between the way the Torah treats animals, fowl and fish. With regard to animals, the Torah lists those animals that are kosher because they chew their cud and have split hooves. All the others - the overwhelming majority of animals - are not kosher. Concerning fowl, by comparison, the Torah lists only the non-kosher species. All those that are not mentioned are, by definition, kosher. Jewish law, however, does not permit us to eat any bird unless there is a clear tradition as to its permissibility because we are not certain about the identity of the non-kosher birds recorded in the Torah. So while theoretically most birds are kosher, we are precluded from eating most of them. With respect to fish, the Torah gives two characteristics that determine which fish are kosher: they must have fins and scales. Since the overwhelming majority of fish possess these “signs,” most fish are therefore deemed kosher.

Why, one might ask, are most animals not kosher, most fowl theoretically kosher but for all practical purposes unfit for our consumption, while the majority of species of fish are identifiably kosher and fit to eat? To be sure, the primary reason for our observance of these dietary laws is to follow G‑d's will. Thus, our finite minds are incapable of grasping the ultimate "purpose" for any Mitzvah. But what lesson can we learn from the discrepancies that exist between, animals, fowl and fish?

Animals are land creatures. This symbolizes the aspect of our personality that is connected to the earthy and materialistic pursuits in life. Unfortunately, most materialistic and animalistic drives can be detrimental to our spiritual well-being. One must be extremely careful to guard one's interaction with the corporeal and earthy influences. Ideally, one should try to harness that animal nature to the pursuit of noble goals. Left unchecked however, the animal in us can be destructive.

Fowl symbolize a person's spiritual drive represented by the quest for more knowledge, This drive manifests itself in philosophical and scientific inquiry, driven by humanity's desire to go higher and higher in our understanding of the cosmos. Intellectual pursuits - though not intrinsically G‑dly - are not as inherently risky as the animalistic ones, thus most fowl are in theory kosher. Nevertheless, for all practical purposes, many of us are not aware of the pitfalls in some of the isms and philosophies that appeal to our spirit of inquiry and discovery. At times, one's intellectual pursuits can steer a person off the path that G‑d had chosen for us. To avoid these pitfalls, we must therefore follow tradition, in terms of knowing what direction we should follow in our quest for greater knowledge.

Fish symbolize the individual whose egos have been submerged in the G‑dly waters of knowledge. Indeed, the description of the ultimate Messianic Era of divine enlightenment by the prophet Isaiah is: "the entire world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the sea is covered with water."  In this G‑d saturated environment one can partake of virtually all that is offered provided that one has fins and scales.

This means that the license for the consumption of this G‑dly knowledge hinges on it having the capacity to propel one to a higher place, represented by the fins.  But even G‑dly knowledge can be dangerous if it goes beyond one's capacity. A powerful surge of spiritual energy can overwhelm one and cause spiritual injury. One could easily misinterpret or misconstrue these lofty ideas. There is therefore a need for a protective force that prevents us from being harmed in one's spiritual journey in life ("scales").

But one can still ask: One of the common denominators in kosher animals and fowl is that they are not carnivorous. Fish, kosher or non kosher, on the other hand, are always swallowing up other fish, yet they are still kosher. Why? Perhaps one can view the idea of the big fish swallowing the little fish in a positive vein. As was discussed in the preceding messages, there are two general levels in Judaism: that of a katan, minor and that of a gadol, mature adult. And while the Torah respects the katan and caters to his or her needs, the Torah wants us to mature to the level of a gadol.  Moreover, the Torah wants the higher and more mature approach to Judaism to "swallow" up the childish and immature level, to the point where it no longer becomes necessary to address the immature part of our souls. We are not talking about the purity and innocence of the child-that we should always retain. We are discussing the need to ultimately abandon our childish perceptions of G‑d and the Torah and our approach to life in general.

This "big fish swallowing up the small fish" phenomenon is what will characterize the Messianic Age, which can be called the "Age of Maturity." And this is also why one of the symbols of that age is the "serving" by G‑d of the Leviathan, the huge fish that symbolizes the pursuit and discovery of the deepest secrets of Judaism.       
Moshiach Matters

At the present time, when the world trembles and all the world shudders with the birth pangs of Moshiach, it is the duty of every Jew, man and woman, old and young, to ask himself: What have I done and what am I doing to alleviate the birth pangs of Moshiach, and to merit the total redemption which will come through our righteous Moshiach? (the Previous Rebbe)

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