April 21, 2017
25 Nisan 5777
At the end of this week’s Torah portion, the laws of Kashrut are discussed. Jews have kept kosher for generations going back at least 3000 years. Is keeping kosher relevant to American Jews living in 2017? I would argue that it is a way to bring holiness into our lives several times a day through the simple act of eating. It connects us with Jews all over the world. We can elevate the daily task of eating to a sacred task and be more conscious of what and why we eat.
One non-kosher bird is the chassidah – the stork. It is called chassidah because it displays kindness (chessed) toward others of its species by sharing food with them. The Ramban said birds were considered not kosher only if they had cruel natures. That obviously brings to mind birds like vultures and hawks. It seems odd that the kindly stork would be considered not kosher.
People find it easy to like and be nice to people who are like them; people who dress like them, think like them, pray like them, etc. For those people, it seems easy to reach out and lend a helping hand. There is a lot of hate and division in the world today and some people are reluctant to help those who seem so different from them, whether this difference is due to political leanings, religion or skin color. The Kosher form of chessed is to bestow kindness equally on all people, regardless of how similar they are to us. While the stork (chassidah) acts kindly toward its companions, it only is kind to other storks but not to other birds or animals. Ultimately, this is not the kindness that we are looking for in our diverse world. Being kind to people just like you is not good enough and is not true chessed and is not Kosher.
We can find a lot of meaning in the laws of Kashrut today. The real test of kindness is being able extend that same treatment even to those who are different from us. This week, let us focus on not imitating the negative traits of the non-kosher stork, but instead focus on extending ourselves to be kind to everyone, whether they are like us, or not.
Religious Life Vice President