This week’s parsha details which animals and fowl may or may not be eaten according to Torah Law. The Ramban explains that the reason why certain birds and animals are not kosher is because they possess negative character traits and whatever you eat has an influence on your character. Therefore, Hashem prohibited eating predators and other cruel animals lest we become influenced even slightly by their inherent bad behavior (11:13). Apparently, the expression "you are what you eat", is a Torah concept.
However, the “Chasida” bird seems to pose a complete contradiction to this rule. The Torah states that the Chasida, which some Sages define as a stork, is not kosher. Rashi comments that the name for this bird is closely related to the Hebrew word Chessed, kindness. Rashi continues to explain that the reason why it was given this particular name is because the Chasida displays kindness by sharing its food with the other members of its species (11:19).
How can the Ramban’s opinion be reconciled with this fact? If the nature of this bird is to kindly share its food with all the birds of its species, why is it not kosher?
R' Yissocher Frand relates that one of the Gedolim (leading Torah sages) of our times once encountered a group of boys who had strayed from Jewish observance, defiantly smoking on a street corner on a Friday night in Jerusalem. Everyone waited to see how the Gadol would react. Some onlookers expected the Gadol to yell at them. Others thought that he would simply ignore them. Instead, the Gadol walked over to them, smiled warmly and said with true sincerity "I love each and every one of you so much. If you ever need anything, or you want to talk, please come to my house. My doors are always open to you and your presence is always welcome".
Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, author of the Chidushei Harim, as well as the Rizhiner Rebbe, explains that the reason why the Chaisda bird is not kosher is due to the fact that it ONLY does kindness with its OWN species. Its non-kosher status is earned by the fact that it never displays kindness towards anyone that looks, acts or feels differently than itself.
The Torah thus teaches us that ‘kindness’ which is limited exclusively to others who act, dress, or think just like you, is not kindness, but rather, mere socializing or an expression of self-interest. As such, the Chasida bird which shows generosity only to its own species is rightfully designated as a non-kosher bird, for the Torah does not want us to follow its terrible example.
When we think of “kindness” we tend to think of “charity”. However, the Gemara states that greeting others warmly and with a bright smile (and by logical extension, offering your friendship to a stranger) - are even greater acts of kindness than monetary favors (Kesuvos 111b). For a warm smile and offer of friendship is something that EVERY human being needs, rich and poor alike, in order to have a bright and enjoyable day.
The lesson from this week’s parshah is undeniable: kindness is only complete if you direct it towards everyone. Often we find it easier to be kind and warm towards people in our own social circles, towards those who share our nuances of Judaism, or towards people who dress, think, and talk just like us. However, we should learn from the actions of the above mentioned Gadol and the Chassida bird’s non-kosher status that a Jew must offer his warmth and kindness to everyone, including to Jews who are different than himself. If you do so, you are guaranteed to become a truly kind person. Hey, it doesn’t get more kosher than that!