Monday, April 6, 2015

Reaching Out and Beyond

The Chasidah [white stork]

 וְאֵת הַחֲסִידָה  "The chasidah" [Shemini 11:19]

Why is its name chasidah (literally meaning "kind one") asks Rashi. "Because it does kindness with its companions with food."

According to the Ramban, said the Chiddushei HaRim (R' Yitzchak Meir Alter of Gur), the reason why the nonkosher birds are not kosher is because of their cruel nature.  If so, the chasidah should have been a kosher-type bird; after all, it bestows kindness upon its companions!

The chasidah acts kindly towards its companions, answered the rebbe, but it does not act kindly toward anyone else. This is why it is considered not kosher.

The following was submitted by a reader: [thank you!]

A lesson we can learn from the Chasida

by: A. Faynberg

In Parshat Shemini which is read after Pesach, we are presented with a list of the Kosher and non-kosher birds and animals, among which is the chasida, translated as the Cinconia, a non-kosher bird from the stork family. Rashi explains that the reason this bird is called the Chasida is because it does chesed, showing kindness to its friends by sharing its food with them. If so, it would only seem proper that such a bird should be classified among the kosher species, as according to the Ramban (Ramban on Vayikra 11:19), the state of impurity which exists among the species of birds, stems from their attribute of cruelty.

The commentator, the Chidushei Harim zatzal explains in Wellsprings of Torah, compiled by Rabbi Alexander Zusha Friedman Hy"d, that since this chasida only does kindness with its own friends, and does not share its food with those outside of its own circle, it is unworthy of being classified as a kosher bird and is therefore impure. If Rashi points out the attribute of kindness found in the Chasida although it is a non-kosher bird, there must be an important lesson for us to learn.

The explanation given by the Chidushei Harim gives us a broader understanding of the true meaning of chesed. We see that doing chesed only with those who are part of our own circle while excluding and pushing others away is in fact looked down upon. True chesed is reaching out and beyond our own circle even if this involves some discomfort; it means being accepting of those who follow the derech and mesorah of Rabbanim from other backgrounds as well.

This could be applied both on an individual and communal level. On an individual level, we find it easier to do chesed with those who perhaps share the same character traits, goals and interests and a similar standard of living with us. On a communal level, this holds true as well. It is far easier for us to reach out to those within our own sector who share a similar outlook as we do on matters of religion and politics. However, the challenge is to reach out and beyond our own individual and communal circles. We must aspire to do chesed lovingly, reaching out with compassion also to those who do not share our social and religious criteria, without being judgmental.

We are capable of doing so and have proven that it's possible for us to break through all barriers and rise above our differences. We've proven that it's possible for us to step out of our own limited zone and reach out towards those who are not exactly like us. We proved it when our three precious bachurim were abducted in Israel and we Jews worldwide were united in prayer, taking upon ourselves many meaningful and great acts in hope for their safe return. We proved we can reach out and beyond our own individual and communal circles during this past war in Gaza where Jews of all circles came to the aid of one another both spiritually and practically. We all prayed for the well-being and safe return of the soldiers, and many went out of their way to arrange the delivery of food supplies and other basic necessities for them. Many attended the funerals of lone soldiers to show their solidarity and others concerned themselves with and attended to the needs of the residents living in fear and danger under a constant barrage of rockets in the south.

We do not need a tragic event or a bitter war to awaken us and remind us that we are one nation. Our enemies yimach shemam know this well and do not differentiate between us when they carry out terror attacks or shoot missiles and rockets at us. We may have forgotten this during the recent elections that took front stage in Israel when the public was exposed to endless degrading statements and remarks of one party or one politician against the other. We are all one nation and our moments of conflict and dispute are only a part of our external crust, but when we peel that off, we get to the inner core of who we really are – a nation who lives by ideals of loyalty, kindness, compassion and love towards the other.

We can and should be united in good and peaceful times too. The navi tells us (Yeshayah 11:6) that during the time of Moshiach “a wolf will dwell together with a sheep, and a leopard and young goat will lie down beside each other,” which is a vivid description of the ultimate peace which will prevail among all the different species during that era. There will no longer be any carnivores preying on herbivores and Hashem's entire creation will live in harmony. A question arises: During the flood in Noach's generation, we also find that the animals existed in peace and harmony and did not devour each other, so what then is so special about the time of Mashiach when such a phenomenon will recur? I recall hearing an explanation in the name of Rav Shimshon Rephael Hirsch Zatzal that during the flood in Noach's generation, uniting with one another was easier and more desirable since there was a common danger outside the Ark, so uniting was necessary for everyone's survival. However, the real test and challenge behind our ability to unite is during a time of ultimate peace, during the time of Mashiach when we won't be facing any common threat or danger from the outside world.

We are all Hashem's children and each of us is precious in His eyes. It is not our duty to evalutate the exact and true worth of another Jew, nor are we capable of doing so, but if we search carefully, we'll find something positive in each individual and in each community. The Gemara (Taanis 31a) says that when Moshiach comes, HakadoshBaruch Hu will sit all the tzaddikim in a circle and “He” will be in the center. I recall hearing that as in a circle, where the radius — the distance from any given point to the center — is always equal, so too all tzaddikim will sit at an equal distance from our common Center, pointing and declaring in unison:

“This is Hashem!” They will say, “This is Hashem for Whom we hoped; let us rejoice in His salvation!”

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