This post here is an insight and life message we shared on Parshat Shemini (a Torah portion about the laws of Kosher) on applying the signs of Kosher fish and Kosher animals to “Kosher” Jewish campus life.
SIGNS OF A KOSHER FISH
The Rebbe wrote this “Jewish fish” insight in his journal in 1941 in war-torn Europe. There are two signs of a Kosher fish: Fins and Scales. Fins propel and steer a fish forward and about, while scales are a form of protective layering. Fins = Offense, Scales = Defense. To be good Jews, to be “Kosher” we need both. Being a defensive Jew has its protections, but it’s not the whole picture. And offense without defense doesn’t cut it either.
It’s the same with Jewish life at college. Some Jews tend to have more of the defensive side. They hunker down, shut out much of the outside world, they establish lines in the sand, red-lines they won’t cross. Other Jews don’t do enough of that, but instead they are active, involved, engaged, doing Jewish… The ideal is that we need both to stay afloat Jewishly in an environment like college. If you want to survive, or better yet – thrive, we need both offense and defense, fins AND scales.
SIGNS OF A KOSHER ANIMAL
Parshat Shemini also lists the signs of a Kosher animal: It chews it cud and has split hooves. Of course, these are practical identifiers used to know what is edible Kosher and what’s not, but there are symbolic life messages here, as well.
Chewing Cud (aside for being a ruminant with four stomachs etc) can symbolize “chewing things over” – not acting impulsively, making critical decisions on the fly – instead, thinking things through, making careful choices, thinking long-term instead of short-term. Many a foolish (and often costly!) college mistake or bad choice could be averted if people “chewed their cud” and didn’t rush head over heels into situations that common sense or good Jewish sense would avoid entirely or at least tread very carefully.
Split Hooves is about having “two feet on the ground” (or should we say four given the animal metaphor) but having a split or crack in that earthly engagement and involvement. As much as we need to be invested and involved in the physical everyday – a little crack or split in that full-on contact allows for a little spiritual light, guidance and sense of priority to filter through and make a difference.
Another way of putting the life-message of “Split-Hooves” (as a grad student put it) is is that it represents balance. Each hoof being split, shows a balance of two sides, not one big hoof coming down, but a split hoof, with two sides that balance each other out.