The bird of loving kindness?

In Parshat Shmini we read about animals which are classified as kosher as well as animals that are not kosher. The name of one of the non kosher birds, chasida (righteous), most probably the Ciconia, stork is surprising.

Rashi asks why it is called chasida and brings Rabbi Yehuda’s answer (Chulin 63a): because it does kindness (chasidut) by distributing food to its fellows.

According to the Rambam, all of the impure animals are naturally cruel. If the chasida is compassionate then why is it stigmatized as a non-kosher bird?

Chidushei HaRim points out that the chasida doesn’t make the kosher list because it directs its kindness exclusively towards “chavroteha”, its fellows. Chesed, loving kindness should not only be done for our friends, it should be done with all of God’s creations. Whoever only performs acts of chesed with their fellows but will not help others has a cruel streak which is a sign of impurity.

We hear about the chasida again in Yirmiyahu 8:7. When God rebuke’s B’nei Yisrael for being rebellious and not repenting:

Even the chasida in the heavens knows its migration seasons and the turtledove, the swift and the crane observe the time of their arrival; but My people do not know the judgment of the Lord.

The storks have a set migration schedule where they pass through Israel when they fly from the south to the northern countries in the spring. In the fall, they fly from the northern countries returning to Africa.

Very few of the storks stay in Israel. The ones who do nest in tall trees as we see in Tehilim, Psalm 104:17, Barchi Nafshi, which we recite on Rosh Chodesh:

As for the chasida, the cypress tree is her house.

We see from here that even the chasida, which is not the most favoured bird knew what was expected yet B’nai Yisrael refused to follow God’s plan for them which ultimately led to the destruction of the First Beit HaMikdash (Temple) and our being exiled from the Land of Israel.

May we look at the mistakes of the past and see where we can improve in the future. Let’s take the chasida’s behaviour one step further and try to do acts of loving kindness for all, not just for our friends.