"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 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?

Food's Force

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.