Shemini: Chesed to the Stranger

acts-of-kindnessThe following you shall abominate among the birds — they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, and the black vulture; the stork; herons of every variety; the hoopoe, and the bat.

Leviticus 11:13,19 (JPS Tanakh)

The Talmud (Chulin 63a) states that the Hebrew name for the white stork is chasida, because it acts with kindness, chesed, towards its friends.

The Ramban, Moshe Nachmanides, a great Torah scholar, writes that the birds enumerated in this portion are forbidden for consumption because of their cruelty. Why, then, should the stork be considered “detestable” and an “abomination”? It should be permissible since it does kindness!

The Chidushai Ha-Rim answers: The stork does favors only for its friends. Since it doesn’t do chesed for strangers, it is considered not kosher. Chesed, kindness, must be done for everyone, not only one’s friends!

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Shemini

It seems strange that we could learn lessons about treating others with charity and lovingkindness from the Laws of Kashrut, but the esteemed sages have illustrated this passage thus. Perhaps you would like something more familiar.

Love your fellow as yourself: I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:18 (JPS Tanakh)

And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Matthew 22:39

But as the famous question goes, who is our neighbor?

The Torah teaches us, “Love your fellow human being as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). It is often translated as “Love your neighbor as yourself.” However, Rabbi Mordechai Gifter taught that while the words “neighbor” and “fellow human being” are often used synonymously, in everyday speech the word “neighbor” is used to denote someone living or located nearby, while the obligation of this commandment includes a complete stranger who lives far away.

The general rule for this commandment is that anything you would want others to do for you, you should do for others (Rambam, Hilchos Aivel 14:1). The great Hillel once taught a convert, “That which is hateful to you, do not do unto others. That is the basis of the Torah.” (Shabbos 31a). The Baal Shem Tov used to say, “Love your fellow man as yourself — though you have many faults, nevertheless, you still love yourself. That is how you should feel toward your friend. Despite his faults, love him.”

-Rabbi Packouz

Not just your neighbor who is close to you, and not just your fellow who is like you, but even people who are far away and who you do not know…even people you may not like.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

What is Chesed? What is truly giving kindness if not showing love and concern for another human being, even when they’re a stranger, or even when there has been bitterness and enmity between you?

One thing I can attest for is his integrity. He was one of the few who called me after my last surgery to find how I am despite our bitter feud. None of you did. Give the guy a break, we must not take love out of the equation.

Chesed is calling up a sick person and showing compassion, even though at all other times you bitterly argue with that person. Chesed is a love note placed in a bottle and tossed into the sea for anyone who may need love to find, no matter how far away they may be. Chesed is a can of soup donated to a food bank for any hungry person to eat. Chesed is smiling at a stranger you pass on the street.

More about chesed on The Transcendent Path.

Good Shabbos.


8 thoughts on “Shemini: Chesed to the Stranger”

  1. This consideration was also likely responsible for the question that was posed to Rav Yeshua, which I will paraphrase slightly to give it something of a more modern flavor: “And just who is it that I should consider to be my neighbor, anyway?”. Whereupon Rav Yeshua told the famous parable about a Samaritan (whose people had denied Jewish legitimacy for centuries) who acted in an uncharacteristically humanitarian or charitable manner in contrast to some Jewish strawmen representing authority figures who should have known well enough to do at least as well. This parable then supported the follow-up question about whom had acted in a neighborly manner, thereby illustrating how broadly one should consider who might qualify under the rubric “neighbor” and who might thereby be eligible to deserve an application of ‘hesed.

  2. Who is your fellow man? Not only your friend, not only the stranger, but your enemy. Heap burning coals upon their heads (Proverbs 25:22, Romans 12:20).

  3. Thank you for the reminder, James. You’re making me think that chesed can also take the form of deciding to no longer harbor I’ll feelings toward a person who has done you wrong. Yeshua always took the matter back to the heart …

  4. That’s exactly the point, Anne. We can’t allow ourselves as servants of the Master, to be limited by our likes and dislikes, by our feelings for another, either good or bad. If God so limited Himself, what hope would there be for any of us?

  5. “We can’t allow ourselves as servants of the Master, to be limited by our likes and dislikes, by our feelings for another, either good or bad. ”

    Very well said! Have a peaceful Sabbath.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.