Parsha Parah Shemini
RABBI ASHER DEREN
Rabbi Asher Deren
Chabad of the West Coast
Kosher. It’s Torah’s guide to G-d’s diet, it’s a multi-billion dollar industry of approved products, and it’s the pride of our globally respected Beth Din standards (and Darren Sevitz’s instant Facebook responses).
In our South African community the definition for anyone’s declaration that “we’re kosher!” could stretch anywhere from the basic separation of meat and milk in the home (but we “eat out”) to the faithful observance of Chalav Yisrael, Pat Yisrael and other halachic qualities of the highest standards.
But, as the Oxford Dictionary points out, kosher today also means “genuine and legitimate.” And that just isn’t about the food on our plate or ingredients in the Jelly Tots.
The debate for us as a community quickly flourishes in to any and every space of the Jewish communal life from learning programmes, guest speakers, social events, and on and on – and then even in our own home, whether it’s reading material, unfiltered Internet, the clothing we wear, or even the conversations we have, the question is asked again and again: Is it truly kosher?
This week we are studying the Torah’s laws of kashrut, and there’s an astounding insight in to one of the basic laws of kashrut, of fish specifically, that can perhaps help serve as a broader definition for what kosher is.
Fins and scales, the biblically mandated kosher fish signs, are the subject of a Talmudic analysis in the tractate of Chulin which asks the obvious question (for anyone familiar with the basics of biological marine life); any fish that has scales, has fins, so why not just say kosher fish is any fish that has scales – and the fins will obviously be there as well?
And the Talmud answers that the extra reference to fins is “to make Torah great and glorious”. What does that mean?
Fish as a whole are analogous of our inability to separate from our “water” – the Torah. Just as a fish is inextricably linked to the sea, a Jew is by his or her very definition linked to Torah.
And what keeps that connection kosher? Scales – and fins…
Scales are there as a protective armour, an added layer of protection that we as guardians of the tradition of Sinai need to ensure through our faithful adherence to the standards and G-d-conscious principles that our ancestors received from Moshe at Sinai.
Fins are our engine, moving us through the rapid changes of time and empowering us to remain ahead of the curve, on the cutting edge of society and technology, as we constantly reaffirm the relevance and contemporary meanings of Torah to everyday life in 2014.
True, Torah from within its very essence expresses that relevance – the fins of our constant movement through the rapid changes of history and into modern life. But by including it as a specific quality, we highlight the importance of our “fins”, our desire to make Torah life relevant and attractive, being kosher as well.
Just as the protective scales in our “traditional” observance of authentic Yiddishkeit is kept to the highest standards of kosher, the sleek and shining fins of a trendy and fashionable Jewish life that we as a South African community are so blessed to enjoy, must also express that same level of kashrut.
And then, and only then, can our glide through these beautiful waters be truly great and glorious.