The Parsha in Chesed — The Stork Reality
Many years ago I had the privilege to spend some time in the Zilberman school in Jerusalem’s Old City. The Zilberman “method” is a unique system of education implemented throughout many schools worldwide. Tucked within the walls of the Jewish quarter sits their flagship elementary school, run by the sons of Rav Zilberman, Z”L.
I spent 2 weeks there observing the classes, learning the method of teaching and consulting with the educators.
During one recess, I witnessed an incident so beautiful that it is etched in my memory for time immemorial.
A family of European tourists stumbled into the middle of the young students playing ball in the famous square outside the school offices. It was late summer and rather characteristically hot. While the female members of this family were dressed accordingly for the weather, it was certainly not to the standard of modesty for a religious school.
Rabbi Yom Tov Zilberman took notice from his office. Getting up from his desk, he came out with a bottle of cold water, cups and a package of cookies. He found them a seat outside the office and cheerfully offered his refreshing snacks to this grateful family.
The contrast was incredulous. The black and white-clad Yerushalmi rabbi and a non-Jewish family that didn’t speak Hebrew or Yiddish.
It didn’t matter.
Chesed transcends people, culture and language.
No request to leave the school area, no admonishment regarding their dress. Pure and simple kindness for a family that was quite different than the students and faculty of the Zilberman school and in need for that cold water.
This week’s parsha enumerates those animals, birds and fish which are deemed kosher as well as those that are not.
Included among the non-kosher birds is the stork, called חסידה in Hebrew.
The gemara in Chulin tells us that the stork is called חסידה as it performs acts of kindness with its fellow storks. חסידה = חסד.
The Ramban explains that the unkosher birds are so classified based on their traits of cruelty.
If this is so, why would the stork be included with the unkosher birds? Isn’t chesed/kindness a sterling characteristic and desired way of life?
The Chidushei HaRim on Parshat Shmini answers this question by clarifying that while the stork does perform acts of kindness, it is ONLY with other storks to the exclusion of all other birds and animals.
If so, the kindness of the חסידה is not pure חסד. When one limits their acts to only those similar, it is more self-serving than selfless.
True kindness dictates that we go beyond our comfort zones and help others in need, even when they may look and dress differently than we.
In a similar vein, the Rama (Rav Moshe Isserles) opens our eyes to what constitutes Hachnasat Orchim (inviting guests). In Hilchot Shabbat, Orach Chaim 333 Siman 1, although normally forbidden on Shabbat, one is allowed to clear out his storage room on Shabbat for certain mitzvot. One of the mitzvot for which this is permitted is for tending to guests. The Rama says, however, that a meal for friends is not considered a meal of a mitzva. True Hachnasat Orchim is only when we host those who are not our relatives or friends.
While it is easy to prepare a meal for our friends or loved ones, the essence of hospitality means troubling ourselves for someone in need no matter who they are to us.
The world as a whole and the Jewish people in particular, were created on the foundation of caring for others. Our forefather Avraham was the pillar of loving kindness. He tended to all those in need even when those people were different than he.
Let us learn from the stork that while helping others may give us a good name, true kindness can only be performed when the care and concern extends beyond the familiar.