In analyzing the classification of birds forbidden to be eaten, as discussed in this week’s Parsha, the Ramban (11:13) points to their possessing a cruel and vicious nature as one explanation for their prohibition. By consuming and digesting such creatures the person absorbs that cruelty and viciousness, and therefore the Torah forbids them to a Jew. Our mission is to raise ourselves above the animalistic tendencies of the animal world, and by refraining from ingesting the animal, we are insulating ourselves from those characteristics that could drag us down, and stunt our spiritual growth.
There is one forbidden bird, whose inclusion on the prohibited list is a curiosity. In Perek 11, Pasuk 19 the Torah mentions the Chasida, which many translate as a stork. Rashi questions why this bird is called a Chasida, and he answers it comes from the word Chesed, so named because this bird does Chesed with her friends, sharing her food with them.
This raises an obvious difficulty; if animals and birds are prohibited to us because of their cruel and destructive nature, how does a creature defined by the Chesed she does fall into the same category. A Baalas Chesed should be precisely the type of creature that we should be encouraged to eat!
I recall hearing from one of my Rebbeim that there is a very powerful lesson here. A careful reading of Rashi shows that this bird’s Chesed is reserved specifically for her friends. The bird is not an equal opportunity Baalas Chesed – she only helps her inner circle, her Chaveiros. She picks and chooses the recipients of her largesse and benevolence. Therefore what she does is not about true chesed – it is about exclusivity and privilege. We can now understand why this bird is prohibited to us – she embodies and represents one of the ugliest Midos; that of leaving others out, making them feel like outcasts. You can be kind and loving to your inner circle – but if it doesn’t extend to others who are not exactly like you, it’s not kindness – it’s meanness.
Our children struggle mightily with this tendency. Excluding others or being excluded yourself is amongst the cruelest and most painful facets of childhood. Adults can generally choose with whom they want to be. When it comes to our children, however, we place them in a school or camp, and no matter how like minded the other families are; differences in temperament, culture and abilities among the children are realities they have to live with. As parents our role is to strengthen the children; their sensitivity and tolerance of others who may be different, their ability to stand up for fairness and compassion to all, and their inner strength to remain unbowed by others who have not imbibed this lesson. And we need to strengthen ourselves to model these same behaviors; to catch ourselves before verbalizing criticism of others and other groups, of denigrating others’ customs or religious standards. Because, what may seem to be intellectual banter among adults, translates into cruelty and pain among the children.
Let’s appreciate the beauty and depth of our precious legacy – the Torah, and realize that the centrality of Kashrus in our religious world is inextricably tied to the centrality of Midos Tovos and kindness to others.
Have an inclusive Shabbos!
Rabbi Kalman Baumann