This week’s Torah portion discusses what makes an animal kosher. A land animal must both chew its cud and have split hooves; a water creature must have both fins and scales.

But while there are species of mammals that chew their cud and do not have split hooves (the Torah brings the camel, hyrax and hare as examples), or do not chew their cud but have split hooves (the pig), all fish that have scales also have fins.

So, why did the Torah have to mention fins?

Because G‑d wants us to learn something from them.

The signs are no mere accident. G‑d didn’t create animals and then later categorize them as kosher or not kosher when he gave us the Torah. Even though there were no Jews yet to keep kosher, Noah was commanded to take two of every non-kosher animal and seven pairs of every kosher animal onto the ark. (All fish were able to stay in the water, because unlike the other animals, they were not corrupted.)

According to Kabbalah, the signs of the land animals teach that when involved in doing mitzvot, one should simultaneously be preparing to do more (double hooves); and when spiritually refining oneself, one must constantly work harder to reach a loftier level (chewing cud).

The signs of kosher fish also teach us a lesson.

The scales are, in a sense, the fish’s protective armor. According to Kabbalah, the scales represent integrity.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, explained the concept in his journal in 1941:

As the armor that protects the body of the fish, scales represent the quality of integrity, which protects us from the many pitfalls that life presents. A man of integrity will not deceive his customers, in spite of the financial profits involved. He will not lie to a friend, despite the short-term gain from doing so. He will not cheat on his wife in the face of tremendous temptation. Integrity means that one has absolute standards of right and wrong, and is committed to a morality that transcends one’s moods and desires. Integrity preserves our souls from temptation.

The Rebbe goes on to explain the significance of the fins:

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.

By mentioning the requirement to have fins, the Torah teaches us that while we must have integrity, we must always make sure we have proper ambition. We must not only live according to the Torah; we must, and encourage others to, affect the entire “ocean.”

We’ve all heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” The food we eat gets converted into blood, tissue, and energy. While eating nutritiously is surely beneficial to one’s body, the kosher food we consume nourishes us physically, mentally and spiritually.

I chose to make kosher fish cupcakes, to get our children talking about what we can learn from fish. My kids are very big fans of aquariums (we also have more than a dozen pet tropical fish—all named, of course) so I hope they will enjoy learning from our underwater friends.


  • You can use any pareve cupcake recipe. Because the focus was on the topping, I used a pareve spice cake mix this time (you’ll need oil, water and a few eggs).
  • Homemade or store-bought pareve frosting
  • Pareve candy-coated chocolates
  • A strawberry
  • A sprinkle (yes, just one!)


  1. Once completely cooled, I frosted each cupcake with pink frosting. You can obviously use any color/s, but my older daughter was at home sick, so she got to choose.
  2. I then used pareve candy-coated chocolates as scales, leaving space for the fish’s face.
  3. I cut off the top of the strawberry, and then cut it in half vertically and checked it for (not kosher!) bugs. I then soaked it in soapy water for three minutes, and then washed it well under running water. Once dried off and checked again, I carefully cut two wedges for the fins and half the tip for the mouth.
  4. Position that one sprinkle for the eye, and you’re done!

Have a good and sweet Shabbat!