Among the oddities that can be found in the laundry list of what animals are and are not fit to be eaten by children of the Jewish covenant with G"d that our found in parashat Shemini, is the stork. The stork is a forbidden animal-we may not eat it. Not sure why one might want to eat a stork, but you never know.
The oddity is that the stork has a Hebrew name that seems to imply it is a good animal. That name is khasidah. Sounds a lot like khesed, khasid, and all those other words built up on that same root - khet, samekh, dalet - meaning "kind." Someone who is a khasid is kind, though it has evolved to mean "pious."
Why is the stork given a name derived from this same root? Our ancestors observed in the stork behavior that can still be seen in storks today. First, they are known to be very kind and caring to their young. Yet storks go a step further - they will be kind to the young of other storks, and even to other adult storks. Storks have been known to bring food to their own kind who are in trouble. They look out for each other.
This is truly a worthy behavior. Worthy of their being named "khasidah."
Sadly, there are many among those who consider themselves khasids (chassids) who have the "piety" part down right, but not the "kind" part. Sadly, you run into them all the time. Hasiddic Jews who think nothing of treating non-Jews with something less than kindness. You know, the old "it's OK to cheat the schwartzes" attitude. They could learn something from the storks.
Both the Kotzker and Gerer rebbes alluded to this when scolding their own followers for failing to be kind and helpful to a non-Jew. Though the "khasidah" is kind to other storks, it does not extend that kindness to other birds, other animals. And that, say the rabbis and sages, is why the stork is not a kosher animal.
What's so wonderful about this explanation is how it helps address an issue I confront every day as a Jewish educator. It's that universalism vs. particularism thing. Our students increasingly tend to view the world from a universalist perspective, and find fault in the particularisms of Judaism and other religions. Yet here we have a shining example of a Jewish teaching that clearly teaches us that we are obligated to be good and kind to all our fellow creatures-human and animal alike. Can this be found in other religions? Certainly. Is this lesson often ignored by Jews (and similarly ignored by people of other faith traditions?) Of course. Sad, but true. In our own Jewish history, this was turned against us. Because of the biblical teachings, the church was sure that no good Christian could do things like lend at interest to another Christian. And so the Jews were brought in to be the tax collectors and the bankers. Had we been able to successfully resist being placed into this forced role, and insisted that we had to treat all human beings as we treated our fellow Jews, I wonder how the course of history might have been changed. (I don't want to fall into a "blame the victim" mentality here--it's not at all clear to me that Jews had much choice.)
So let's not be storks. Let's care for ourselves, but also care for all our brothers and sisters. And let's not be ostriches as well, and bury our heads in the sand. Much of the world behaved like an ostrich while the Nazis went about their atrocities and genocidal acts. We must not let ourselves or anyone else do the same in the face of what's happening in Darfur.
So this Shabbat, think about what kind of bird you'd like to be. Hopefully, not a stork. (If you're a carnivore like me, you probably wouldn't want to be a chicken on Shabbat.) What other lessons can we learn from which animals are kosher and which are not? Which kosher animal might you most like to emulate?
"How the winds are laughing. They laugh with all their might. Laugh and laugh the whole day through and half the summer's night." (S. Secunda.)
(I'd like to thank Rabbi Fred Dobbs for reminding me about this lovely little piece of Torah about the khasidah.)
©2007 by Adrian A. Durlester
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Shemini 5761-Lessons From Our Students
Shemini 5760-Calm in a Crisis
Shemini 5759-Porking Out
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