Parshas Re’eh: Kosher Fish – Swimming into Elul

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Re’eh, the Torah reminds us of those animals which are kosher and fit for consumption, and those which are not kosher and, therefore, forbidden to us.  An animal that chews its cud and has completely split hooves is kosher.

As for the signs of a kosher fish: אֶת-זֶה, תֹּאכְלוּ, מִכֹּל, אֲשֶׁר בַּמָּיִם: כֹּל אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ סְנַפִּיר וְקַשְׂקֶשֶׂת, תֹּאכֵלוּ – This you may eat of everything that is in the water: anything that has fins and scales you may eat (Devarim 14:1).

What lesson can we derive from kosher fish, which must have fins and scales?

Scales protect the fish from its environment. They overlap like shingles on a roof so that the skin of the fish is not exposed.

Fins help the fish swim, lending stability in swimming.  The tail (or caudal) fin is the main propelling fin, which helps the fish move forward.  The pectoral fins help with locomotion and side to side movement.

The kosher fish must have scales, which protect it from its environment, and fins, which help with stability and swimming, allowing the fish to move forward in its watery home…

What a powerful lesson we can derive from the kosher fish, particularly relevant as we prepare to usher in the holy month of Elul.

The fish is kosher if it lives in its world, but ensures that it is, nevertheless, protected from its environment; and the fish is kosher if it has the tools to move forward in life. 

It is a lesson we would do well to remember as we prepare for a new year, a new chance, new beginnings and new strivings.

As do fish, we too live in an often turbulent, churning, wavy world: let us ensure that we protect ourselves from the negative and harmful influences in the environment that surrounds us.  And in order to be a successful eved Hashem (servant of G-d), we must always be moving in life, propelling ourselves upwards and forward in our avodas Hashem

If we want to be straight with G-d, an adam yasher, then we too must be kosher before Him (see Devarim 13:19 – לעשות הישר בעיני ה׳, which Targum Onkelos explains as: למעבד דכשר קדם ה׳). 

Regarding Elul zman, R’ Yehudah Amital zt’l, Rosh Yeshiva Yeshivat Har Etzion, said, “But we need to remember that the true experience of Elul doesn’t just happen; it results from an effort of hard work.  Certainly, the atmosphere of the Beit Medrash adds something, but anyone who builds his life on atmosphere is wasting his time.  A person has to apply himself, to overcome shifts in mood and interest.  Being a student in yeshiva requires rousing oneself to engage in avodat Hashem whether one feels like it or not.  One has to get to the Beit Medrash on time, and open the Gemara, no matter his mood… The effort (of avodat Hashem) is constant and unrelenting…

“You have to make proper use of your time.  If a person is presented with possibilities (to learn and serve G-d), can he possibly be forgiven for not making the most of the opportunity?”

There is a yiddish saying: “When Elul enters, even the fish in the sea tremble.”

As we prepare to usher in Chodesh Elul, the month of return, repair and repentance, let us remember that the kosher fish is one that is protected from its harmful surroundings and motivated to move forward in life.

As we too tremble before Him, let us pray that we will merit to see the fulfillment of שנהיה לראש ולא לזנב – let this be the year that we are “for the head and not for the tail.”

בברכת חודש טוב ושבת שלום,



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