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In this week’s parashah, we are taught about the kosher and non-kosher species of animals, birds, fish, insects and reptiles. Unlike the kosher animals and fish, which are identified not by name but by characteristics, so that their identities are clear, the identities of the permissible birds are very cloudy. The Torah names the twenty non-kosher species, which means that all others are kosher. However, as a result of the various exiles and dispersions, the language of the Torah fell into relative disuse, with the result that the exact identities of the non-kosher birds became doubtful. Therefore, the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) rules that it is forbidden to eat any species of bird unless there is a well-established tradition that it is kosher (copied from the ArtScroll Stone Chumash Commentary).

One of the non-kosher birds is the Chasidah. In Hebrew, the word chasidah is the feminine form of the word chasid, which means a righteous or pious person. It also contains in its structure the word chesed, which means kindness. Rashi brings the words of the Sages who ask, “Why is it called Chasidah?” They answer, “Because it displays kindness toward others of its species by sharing food with them.”

The question may then be asked, “If so, why is it a non-kosher bird?” Our common sense dictates that a bird which is kind to others should be kosher and not the reverse.

Some answer (perhaps the Kotzker Rebbe) that it is not considered genuine kindness to only be benevolent to your own kind. The Torah teaches us to be helpful and compassionate to all. There is even a specific mitzvah commanding us to put aside our ill-feelings towards a sinner and assist him in his hour of need.

Thus, by declaring the Chasidah non-kosher, we are being taught a very important lesson concerning human relations – according to the Holy Book.

Reb Shalom Shvadron ztvk”l told me that Reb Ely Lopian ztvk”l was once in some town together with his yeshiva. Surprisingly, a local resident, who was non-religious, always went out of the way to do whatever he could to help them in any way possible. One day, curiosity overtook one of the students and he asked the fellow why he is so nice to them in spite of their differences. The man answered, “Because your rabbi is a student of the Chofetz Chaim, and I would do anything I can for any student of his!”

Amazed that this non-observant Jew even knew the name of the leader of their generation, let alone revered him, the student persisted to ask for an explanation. Finally, the man told him his story.

“When I was a bochur (a young man), I applied to learn in the esteemed Yeshiva of Radin, which was headed by the Chofetz Chaim. The rabbi in charge of accepting new applicants interviewed me and found my level of learning up to par. However, when he discussed with me items relating to Faith, it did not take him long to realize that I belonged to the Maskilim (‘The Enlightened,’ a group which rejected the traditions of Judaism and attempted to ‘modernize’ its outlook – the forerunners of the ‘Reform Movement’). He informed me immediately that I could not be admitted into the yeshiva and that I should look elsewhere for a place to study.

“Not at all surprised, I accepted my lot, but I explained to the rabbi that there was no train out of Radin that night and I had no place to sleep. I asked permission to join the students at their sleeping quarters for only one night and I promised to leave on the first train the next morning. The rabbi said that he had to discuss the matter with the Chofetz Chaim.

“When the rabbi told the Chofetz Chaim that a boy who was a Maskil needed a place to spend the night and asked if he could sleep together with the yeshiva boys, the holy man adamantly refused. ‘One night of spreading his venom could be fatally harmful to innocent, young yeshiva bachurim who do not know the astute ways of the wicked,’ the Chofetz Chaim declared.

“’But where should he sleep then?’ persisted the rabbi. Surely we cannot put him out into the street.’

“‘Chas veshalom (Heaven forbid),’ replied the venerable sage. ‘Of course we must supply him with food and lodging. But not with the precious yeshiva students. Tell him that he is my personal guest and should come directly to my home!’

“And so I spent the night at the humble home of the greatest rabbi of the era. But you won’t believe the end of the story. The house was very cold, as the holy man was very much removed from material things, and I was shivering in bed. Suddenly, when he thought that I was asleep, the Chofetz Chaim brought in another blanket and placed it upon me. After a little investigation, I discovered that the tzaddik had given me his very own cover!

“And that’s why I would do anything for the students of the Chofetz Chaim,” the non-devout man concluded with tears in his eyes.

How moving this beautiful story is. Imagine, the holy Chofetz Chaim gave his own cover to a boy whom he considered so dangerous that he wouldn’t allow him to spend even one night with his students. Not like the Chasidah who only shares her food with others of its species, the Torah-observant Jews were commanded to be kind to everyone in need, regardless of whether or not he or she has the same outlook on life that they have. We must always be ready and available to help everyone in his/her hour of need, and then Hashem will always help us too, even if we are not exactly the way He wants us to be either.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel