As we pass the 20th anniversary since the 9-11 terror attack on the World Trade Center, I wish to share with you the story of an interesting 9-11 diary. This diary sheds light on the ongoing struggle between the West and radical Islam.
September 11, 1941
The world is swimming in Adolf Hitler's bloodbath. In a few days, the Germans will capture Kiev, capital of the Ukraine, and massacre 100,000 innocent human beings in a ravine named Babi Yar.
On this day -- 9/11, 1941 -- in Arlington, Virginia, the U.S. Department of Defense starts construction on its new headquarters, the Pentagon.
On the same day, a 39 year old new immigrant to the free shores of the United States, Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, later to become known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, writes an entry in his private journal concerning two traits that make for a moral and productive human being: "fins" and "scales."
Nobody imagined that sixty years later...the free world would be struck again.
Nobody imagined that sixty years later, on 9/11 2001, the free world would be struck again. Radical Islamists would crash planes into the Pentagon and the Twin Towers, murdering thousands.
The idea the Lubavitcher Rebbe presented in his journal on this day is worth reflecting on today.
The Bible states in the portion of Re'eh:
"This may you eat of all that is in the waters: everything that has fins and scales, you may eat. But anything that has no fins and scales, you may not eat." (Lev. 11:9-10), (Deut. 14:9-10)
For a fish to be kosher, it needs to have both fins and scales.
The Talmud states a fascinating fact: "All [fish] that have scales also have fins [and are thus kosher]; but there are [fish] that have fins but do not have scales [and are thus not kosher]." (Niddah 51b)
The Talmud therefore asks: "If so, the Torah could have written only 'scales,' without having to also write 'fins?'" If a fish which has scales inevitably has fins, why the need for both signs? The Talmud answers: Said Rabbi Abahu, and so it was learned in the study house of Rabbi Ishmael: "This is so that the Torah should be increased and made great."
This is a strange answer. Where is the logic in presenting fins as an identifying sign for kosher fish when it is totally irrelevant and inconsequential, since scaled fish inevitably have fins as well? How does this make the Torah greater?
Also, why are fins and scales the characteristics that distinguish kosher fish? What is special about these two identifying signs to deem fish suitable for Jewish consumption?
The Rabbis and Mystics teach that the physical attributes of fish, and of all animals, reflect their psychological and spiritual qualities. They further explain that the food a person consumes has a profound effect on his or her psyche. Therefore, when one eats the flesh of a particular creature, the "personality" of that creature affects the person in some way.
Fins and scales also embody two qualities embedded in the souls of these types of fish that are necessary for the healthy development of the human character. When the Jew consumes the substance of such fish, he becomes a more "kosher" and refined human being. When he consumes fish lacking these characteristics, it may dampen something of these vital qualities.
Drive & Direction
Scales, the "armor" that shields and protects the body of the fish, represents the quality of integrity, which protects us from falling prey to the many pitfalls that life presents. A man of integrity will not deceive his customers, despite the apparent financial profits involved. He will not tell a lie to a friend despite the short-term comfort gained by doing so. He will not cheat on his wife, despite the tremendous temptations experienced by many a male. Integrity means that you have absolute standards of right and wrong and that you are committed to a morality that transcends your moods and temptations. Integrity preserves and protects your life and your soul.
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 or her G‑d-given potential. It propels us to fulfill our dreams and leave our unique imprint on the world.
What Is Our Priority?
Which...is more important to cultivate in life...?
Which of these two qualities is more important to cultivate in life --fins or scales? What ought to be the main function of education? Should we concentrate primarily on providing our children with the confidence and skills necessary for them to become productive and accomplished human beings? Or ought we to focus more intensely on raising children of high moral standing, concentrating more on how they will live rather than on how they will make a living?
The Talmud teaches that all fish that have scales also have fins. But there are fish that have fins but do not have scales, and are thus non-kosher. On a deeper level this symbolizes the idea that a human being who possesses fins may still lack scales and thus remain "non-kosher." He might swim and frolic through large seas and oceans with his talent and genius, but his achievements may be corrupt, hurting others in the process. Creating ambitious and confident children does not guarantee their moral uprightness and integrity. Our recent financial scandals are the result of people who had fins but no scales.
On the other hand, the Talmud tells us that all fish with scales have fins. If you teach your children to approach life with truth and honesty, with an unyielding commitment to morality and decency, this child will certainly succeed and develop "fins" as well. Regardless of his or her degree of intellectual prowess, they will find the "fins" with which to advance in their learning and their achievements to make the world a more beautiful place.
To Change the World
"If so," asks the Talmud, "the Torah could have written only 'scales,' without having to also write 'fins'." On a deeper level, the Talmud is asking, why is it important to emphasize the need for fins in developing a "kosher" human being? Why does an emphasis on ambition constitute part of a moral and "kosher" education? Why not just focus on integrity and ethics?
The Talmud's answer is marvelous: "This is so that 'Torah be increased and made great.'" This means that our spiritual mission consists not only of professing integrity and morality, but also of developing our full potential materially and spiritually. G‑d wants us to be good; but He also wants us to be successful and shine; to utilize all of our talents and resources to transform the landscape of our planet into an abode for the Divine; to make the Torah "great and large." The light, majesty and depth of Torah must penetrate the entire world and turn it into an oasis of goodness and holiness.
Cruel Ambition; Deadly Surrender
The events of September 2001, like those of September 1941, dramatically altered our view of the world. Both ushered in a new era of violence, bloodshed, grief and terror. The first by Nazi Germany; the second -- by radical Islamists.
Yet the roots of the two wars were very different...
Yet the roots of the two wars were very different: The Germans personified a culture possessing fins but no scales. Their ambitions, achievements, and love of life were impressive; yet their morality and sense of ethics were horrifically skewed. While they loved and nurtured their dogs, appreciated poetry, philosophy, and scientific advancement, they sent millions to die in gas chambers.
September 11th 2001, on the other hand, was perpetrated by people with a deep faith and commitment to the will of Allah, yet with a hate for all progress and advancement. They died for what they believed to be the ultimate in morality and holiness; yet their perception of G‑d was horrifically skewed: theirs was a god who wanted them to die, as long as they can kill others.
Many young Muslims are being taught today to develop scales but no fins: to surrender their lives to Allah, without appreciating that G‑d wants them to live, and not to die; to build the world, not destroy it, and to respect other peoples, not blow them up. To create a "kosher" world, we need scales, but we also need fins. Muslim leaders, parents and educators must begin to teach their youth to love their own lives more than they hate the lives of others. They must discover that the love of G‑d does not require a love for blood.
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