RE’EH (Deuteronomy, 11:26-16:17) — “Birds of Different Feathers …?”

Chesed — kindness.  It is the basis for the world’s existence.  “The world is built through Chesed — Kindness.”  (Psalms, 89:3)

G-d is kind to us, and He expects us to be kind to others.  Children are taught from a young age to engage in acts of Chesed.  Every morning we give thanks to “…He who performs Chasadim Tovim — beneficent acts of kindness to His People Israel,” and we ask Him to “Establish peace, goodness, blessing, graciousness, Chesed — kindness… upon us and all Your nation Israel.”  We refer to the pious as “Chassidim”, which we could translate literally as “those who are kind.”  At the very end of a person’s life, we perform the Chesed shel Emes — a true and unselfish act of Chesed, by burying him.

I could go on.  In every aspect of our lives, we are called upon to act with kindness and compassion.  So much so, that G-d even limits our intake of foods that could somehow have a negative impact on our ability to be kind.

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“You are what you eat.”

The Torah provides us with a list of non-Kosher birds.  If a bird is on the list, it is not Kosher.  If the bird is not on the list, it is Kosher.

(The problem, however, is that we don’t necessarily know the exact translations of the various birds on the list.  Therefore, we only eat those birds for which there is an established tradition.  We eat chickens because our parents ate chickens and their parents ate chickens, and their parents…  We don’t eat robins, not because we know them to be non-Kosher, but rather that we don’t have an unbroken tradition that they are.  For an interesting article on the attempt to “establish” a tradition that certain birds are Kosher, click here.)

It is commonly understood that the reason we don’t eat eagles, owls, and hawks is that they are birds of prey.  Birds that attack other animals and tear them to shreds with their claws are not the types of creatures we want to consume.  Therefore, we tend to prefer the birds that use their feet for walking and perching, rather than hunting and killing.  Nachmanides (on Leviticus 11:13) explains that the Torah wanted to distance us from the consumption of cruel animals because they would somehow taint us spiritually and ingrain a degree of cruelty into our souls.

One interesting bird on the list is the Chasidah, usually translated as a stork.  The name Chasidah comes from the word Chesed.  The Talmud (Chullin 63) explains that there is a specific reason that this bird was given this name.  The Chasidah is a very generous bird who shares its food with its fellow Chasidahs.  So, instead of “stork”, we could translate it as “The Kind Bird.”

“The Kind Bird.”  This begs the obvious question.  Nachmanides says that we don’t eat these non-kosher birds because they are cruel.  We don’t want to ingest a nasty bird that kills other animals.  But the Chasidah is a nice guy!  He shares his food with his fellows.  He does Chesed, acts of kindness for others!  So what’s the problem?

The Rizhiner Rebbe answers that the Chasidah has misplaced priorities.  It is very nice that the stork is kind to other storks.  But what about everybody else?

It is easy to be kind to those who are part of one’s immediate circle of friends.  What takes some effort is being kind to strangers.

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Still, one wonders, how bad could the stork be?  It may not be the friendliest bird in the aviary, but at least it is kind to other storks.  After all, the Torah still does use the name Chasidah.   It is a bird that performs Chesed.  So what’s so terrible?

I would like to suggest another insight into the etymology of the word Chasidah.  In almost all cases we find that the word Chesed is translated to mean kindness.  However, there is one exception that comes to mind:

If a man takes his sister, be she the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother, and he sees her nakedness and she sees his nakedness, it is an extremely shameful perversion, and they shall be cut off spiritually from their people.  Since he has committed incest with his sister, he shall bear his guilt.  (Leviticus, 20:17) 

“…It is an extremely shameful perversion.”  That is the translation that Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan gives to the word “Chesed.” 

“Chesed!”  screams the Torah.   How could decent people behave this way?  It is incest!  It is despicable!  It is Chesed!”  Rashi explains that in Aramaic the word “Chisuda” means “shame.”

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Chesed can easily be misapplied.  One may look at a brother and sister and see a perfect match.  They have been raised in the same home with the same values.  They will agree on how to raise a family.  Why not?

NO! cries the Torah.  This is absolutely unacceptable!  It is shameful and perverted.  It is NOT the will of G-d.  It is  Chesed!

Now, let’s look back at our friend the stork.  She takes care of her friends, but couldn’t care less about anybody else.  That’s not just insufficient kindness.  It is Chesed.  The bad kind.  The sick, shameful, incestuous, perverted kind.  That is a bird whose influence we want to avoid.

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Do you remember as a kid in school when there were certain kids in the “in” crowd while others were on the outside looking in?  Do you know how painful it is to be excluded?  The friends may be nice to each other, but they treat the outsiders like pariahs.  Is such a friendship of any value?

There is a Mitzvah to send Mishloach Manos, gifts of food, on Purim.  We share the joy of the holiday by sending gifts to our friends.  One rabbi I know tells people to send the gifts to their enemies!  “Forget about your friends,” he tells them.  “They will remain your friends with or without a fiftieth Hamentash and a seventeenth bottle of wine.  Send a gift to your neighbor down the street who has no friends.  Send a gift to the fellow you had that fight with last year.”

We’re all in this volatile world together.  We can’t ignore each other.  Rosh Hashanah is a month away.  I’ll pray for you.  Will you pray for me?

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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 From the Archives

“The Emperor’s New Tallis” (2010)

It was the social event of the year…

There was, of course, a Chuppah.  How do you have a Simcha without one?  And a framed Ketubah.  And a Yarmulke.  And a Tallis.  And a broken glass.

Oh, there was also a Jewish young man who wanted to get married.

Unfortunately, as far as Torah Law is concerned, he didn’t…

Read more.

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“The Tire Kicker” (2009)

How should we live our lives?  What does G-d want us to do?

The answer to this question SHOULD BE simple:  Open the Torah, read what it says, and do it!  After all, it’s the Master of the World’s instructions.  He made the world and He made us.  Certainly He knows what’s best for us.

He told us to rest on the Sabbath, so we should rest on the Sabbath.  He told us not to worship idols, so we shouldn’t worship idols.

But what if G-d changes His mind?  Do the rules change if G-d decides to set up a different system?

What if G-d decides, “You know, I don’t like the way things are working out with the current Mitzvah arrangement.  The original Testament I set up isn’t working so well.  I think I’ll write a ‘New’ one.”…

Read more.

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 “Birds of Different Feathers …?” (2007)

… It is commonly understood that the reason we don’t eat eagles, owls, and hawks is that they are birds of prey.  Birds that attack other animals and tear them to shreds with their claws are not the types of creatures we want to consume… the Torah wanted to distance us from the consumption of cruel animals because they would somehow taint us spiritually and ingrain a degree of cruelty into our souls.

One interesting bird on the list is the Chasidah, usually translated as a stork… The Chasidah is a very generous bird who shares its food with its fellow Chasidahs.  …  This begs the obvious question… we don’t eat these non-kosher birds because they are cruel.  We don’t want to ingest a nasty bird that kills other animals.  But the Chasidah is a nice guy!  He shares his food with his fellows.  He does Chesed, acts of kindness for others!  So what’s the problem?..

Read more.

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 “You!”  (2006)

… The Talmud describes how the available bachelorettes borrowed dresses (so as not to embarrass one who had none) and went down to the vineyards to meet eligible bachelors … two days, Yom Kippur and the Fifteenth of Av, were the two main days for arranging marriages.

Doesn’t that seem a bit odd?  Yom Kippur, a day of serious spiritual yearning, a time of forgiveness of sins!  Is that the right time to arrange a date?!  The month of Av, a time during which we have shed oceans of tears!  Is that an appropriate time for a singles event?! …

Read more.

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“Terrible or Tear-able? – The Living Talk about Dying” (2005)

… I once went to visit a friend who was sitting Shiva for his father.  He and his mother were both wearing black ribbons pinned to their shirts.  Now this black ribbon, as I will explain, has no significance whatsoever in traditional Jewish practice.  It was the last day of Shiva.  My friend, taking advantage of the fact that a rabbi was visiting, decided to call upon the vast wealth of Torah knowledge that his friend the rabbi could provide.

“So tell me, Rabbi,” he asked.  “How long am I supposed to wear this ribbon?”…

Read more.

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“A Little Bit Kosher?!” (2004)

“There’s no such thing as ‘a little bit pregnant.”  There are no two ways about it; either you are or you aren’t.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Kosher law was so simple? … “Why are there so many Kosher symbols? What ever happened to the plain, simple “K”? O-U, O-K, Star-K? OY VAY!!!!”… I still haven’t answered the question about dual standards.   Must meat be Glatt kosher or not?  Must milk be Cholov Yisroel or not?  IS SHE PREGNANT OR NOT?!

Read more.

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“A High Fly Matzah Ball into SHALLOW Center Field” (2003)

… My son and I went to a baseball game the other day.  I usually try to take him to a game or two every season, and this particular day fit into my schedule.  Coincidentally, it happened to have been Jewish Heritage Day at Shea Stadium.  What, I wondered, is “Jewish Heritage?”  Well, now I was going to find out.

It was, in many ways, a wonderful day.  Fortunately for my son-the-Met-fan, the Mets beat the  Rockies. (Again!)  The weather was great.  Cliff Floyd had four hits and an intentional walk.  Al Leiter pitched a season-high ten strikeouts.  It was a good day at Shea.

Oh, and the “Jewish Heritage Day?”  To be honest, I was, at best, underwhelmed…

Read more.

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“Spring Ahead …” (2002)

…Jews and Muslims both use a lunar calendar. Rosh Chodesh, the first of the month, always comes out on the new moon. Why then, is there such a discrepancy between the Jewish and Muslim calendars? While Ramadan can come out any time during the year, Rosh Hashanah is always in September, and Passover is always in March or April.  How do calendars that are so similar end up so different?…

If the calendar were left alone… we’d have Chanukah in July! (At least it might eliminate the “December dilemma!”) …

Read more.

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“BREAD, MATZAH…AND PIZZA” (2001)

… Did you ever wonder why we left in a hurry?  We eat Matzah to remember that since we were in a hurry, there was no time for our bread to rise.  But what was the rush?  Why were we in such a hurry?   We couldn’t afford a few more minutes to take the bread out of the oven and put some peanut butter on it?!  210 years in  Egypt, and we can’t take the time to pack and leave like a mentch?!…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in  Monsey,  New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on August 10, 2007 at 4:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

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