Parshat Shemini- You Are What You Eat

This week’s d’var torah is dedicated in honor of Akiva Lieber’s eighth birthday.

Towards the end of our פרשה, we learn many of the laws of כשרות- specifically which animals are כשר and which are not. Most of these laws are חוקים, laws whose basis are not so obvious. However, if we delve into a few of the non-kosher animals, it becomes clear that there is a lesson behind these animals- that they act a certain way which we should not be acting, and to avoid internalizing these traits, we may not eat these animals. Or, as Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach once wrote “Der Mensch ist, was er ißt” (You are what you eat). Let us examine two types of עוף טמא to see what lessons we can learn from them:

(וְאֵת, הַחֲסִידָה, הָאֲנָפָה, לְמִינָהּ” (ויקרא י”א:י”ט”- And the stork and the heron, like its kind

Rashi interprets “חסידה” as a stork, a large bird well known for its faithfulness and dedication to an established nesting site. This trait, coupled with the species’ name coming from חסד, leads us to wonder; why is this bird treif if it displays such seemingly good מידות?

The answer lies in the reason for the stork’s name, חסידה. The גמרא in חולין (on 63a) teaches that the stork is called חסידה because of the kindness it tends to show is to other storks by sharing food with them. However, Rav Yisrael Friedman of Ruzhin, better known as the Ruzhiner Rebbe, adds that while the stork is definitely a חסידה for sharing food with fellow “חסידים,” it does not extend this level of kindness outside of its species. Since it only shares and directs kindness to fellow storks and no other animals, the stork’s חסידות is incomplete, and it is possible that because of this flaw in an otherwise admirable trait, the stork is an עוף טמא.

This is a very important lesson for the Jewish People in our time. With all of the divisions and factions of our Nation, it is often difficult to see our fellow Jews as our brothers- we are happier to label them as ‘Hareidi’ or ‘Zionist’ or ‘Non-Religious’, and ignore our shared foundation in the process. However, a major theme of the חג that we just celebrated is one of national unity, and one of the most important lessons of Pesach is that a complete Redemption can only come through complete unification of the Jewish People- an important lesson for the generation of the אתחלתא דגאולה.

I would also like to examine another non-Kosher bird to see if we can learn a lesson from it:

(וְאֶת-הַדָּאָה–וְאֶת-הָאַיָּה, לְמִינָהּ” (ויקרא י”א:י”ד”-  And the kite and the falcon, like its kind

The kite, a family of hawk-type birds not often confused with its inanimate namesake, is a bird of prey that doesn’t seem to have so many traits that we should emulate, so it’s not so difficult for us to understand why it is an עוף טמא. However, in the ספר אזנים  לתורה (Vayikra 11:14), Rav Zalman Sorotzkin (the Lutzker Rav) writes an interesting insight into the דאה with important implications to our times. He teaches that when the laws of כשרות are repeated in ספר דברים, this particular bird is mentioned as a ראה. The gemara in חולין (on דף סג) writes that the ראה bird was known to be able to see a נבלה (carcass) in ארץ ישראל all the way from בבל, something which חז”ל didn’t ‘look upon’ very favorably- this is possibly why it is counted among the עופות טמאים. Rav Sorotzkin suggests an important lesson for us from the ראה/דאה. There are many people in our time who, like the ראה, are able to see a נבלה (interpreted here as a fault) in ארץ ישראל all the way from בבל (the diaspora) and are very careful to publicize it so that everyone in the world knows about it. But, these רשעים, these ‘bloodthirsty kites’ if you would, cannot put their money where their mouth is by coming to the Jewish homeland and personally removing the נבלות and making it a better place in their eyes. The אזנים לתורה concludes that “…אין דעת התורה נוחה מזה- the Torah is not pleased with this quality,” a big irony for those who believe that they are following the תורה by being a bloodthirsty bird of prey against the Jewish state’s faults. This is why the דאה is not a כשר bird, and this is very good mussar to us as we feel tempted to exploit some of the faults of מדינת ישראל against our fellow Jews who run it.

As we begin the time of ספירת העומר and approach יום השואה and יום הזכרון, we remember the sacrifices and losses of our fellow Jews, those who didn’t have a country and those who were fighting for their country. It is at this time that it is so important that we remember these two lessons of the עופות טמאים- we must be united in our remembrance of the dead and our support of the future. We cannot let labels and leanings distort the sacrifices that the Jewish underground fighters have made since the 1948 Independence War, and we definitely should not be ‘dancing on their graves’ by questioning the halachik accuracy of their actions and accusing them of being עובדי עבודה זרה. Our Redemption from Egypt only came through national unity and our final גאולה will only come in the same way. We should all be zoche to see a time when the Jewish People have left behind our grudges against each other so that we can united to see an end to all of our sacrifices and the coming of the גאולה very soon. Shabbat Shalom.