We’re inspired by ambitious people. They know what they want and pursue it with great passion. Yet, when ambition isn’t backed by strong values, something dangerous has just been born.
Everything in the Torah plays itself out on multiple levels. So there’s the, what’s called the shock level, the simple level, exactly what the Torah says. For example, the Torah says how do you know if a fish is Kosher? If it has fins and scales, it’s Kosher. Simple. Two criteria.
And, fascinatingly, actually, the Talmud, the oral law, tells us, as was passed down from Moses, in Tractate Nidah; that if you find a fish that has fins but it doesn’t have scales, it’s not Kosher. Obviously, because the Torah tells us you need to have fins and scales. Here is the interesting thing. The Talmud states that if you find a fish that has scales but doesn’t have fins, it’s Kosher. It’s Kosher? What do you mean? The Torah says you need to have fins and scales. But the Talmud says it’s Kosher because the Talmud states that there is no such fish in the world that has scales and doesn’t have fins, which is quite fascinating because the Talmud was written 1500 years ago. And it was being taught beginning with Moses, going back 3,324 years ago. So, you know, a large part of the world wasn’t yet discovered, most of marine life wasn’t yet discovered and Moses wasn’t a deep sea diver. So how did the Talmud know this? Fascinating.
It’s actually one of the pieces of information we have which gives us a glimpse into the fact that the Torah actually is inside information. Actually, it’s your inside information and it’s legal. Actually, strongly encouraged.
But there’s an interesting message that the fins and scales teach us and a very powerful message about life. Because you know why does a fish have fins? To move forward. It gets going where it wants to go. We’re ambitious, we use our fins to get us where we want to be, we want to accomplish, we want to achieve, we want to conquer. Our fins help us do that. Scales are actually a protective layer over the fish. They’re sort of a defense measure in some way. They are making sure the fish isn’t infiltrated from the outside, isn’t affected, isn’t hurt. And as human beings, we have that as well. We have our values, we have our ideals, we have our beliefs and they are our scales. They actually protect us. They may not, you know, on their own move us aggressively forward, but they actually keep us very safe.
And so actually, this lesson, this law that the Torah teaches us and the Talmud, you know, adds to in the information of knowing that you can have fins without scales, but if you have scales you definitely have fins, it teaches us something very important. And that is that, you know, very often in life we spend a large part of our time teaching ourselves how to move forward, how to conquer, how to achieve, how to make, how to earn, whatever it is. But, actually, if we don’t spend time developing our scales, making ourselves finer people, then that ambition can actually turn us into someone very dangerous. Because we’re very aggressive, we’re very ambitious but we’re not fine people.
And here is what the Talmud tells us. When you have scales, you will definitely have fins. A person who develops fine character, that itself will propel them forward in a very positive and healthy way. And so we have to ask ourselves as a society, but even more importantly as individuals, you know, how much time do I spend every day focusing on conquering, earning and making? How much time do I spend every day on developing myself to be a fine person? This is even true for a Torah scholar. Someone can be very ambitious in their Torah study, they can be a great scholar and have a tremendous amount of knowledge in the wisdom of G‑d. But if they’re not a G‑d fearing person, then it’s all about them. So it’s all about being a greater scholar, maybe even a greater Rabbi. But when a person is a G‑d fearing person, they develop their character to be humble, stand with humility before another, to be a decent human being and to be dedicated not to themselves but to G‑d, then their studies is of a quality which is far greater than the other Torah scholar.
And so we have to ask ourselves in our lives, you know, how well developed are our scales, how well developed are our fins, and are our fins an outcome of our scales? Are fins, our ambition, an outcome of who we are or are we sacrificing who we are to be enslaved to our ambitions?