On the eighth day, following the seven days of their inauguration, Aaron and his sons begin to officiate as kohanim; a fire issues forth from Hashem to consume the offerings on the Mizbeyach, and the divine presence comes to dwell in the Mishkan.
Aaron’s two elder sons, Nadav and Avihu, offer a “strange fire before Hashem, which He commanded them not” and die before Hashem. Aaron is silent in face of his tragedy. Moshe and Aaron subsequently disagree as to a point of law regarding the offerings, but Moshe concedes to Aaron that Aaron is in the right.
Hashem commands the kosher laws, identifying the animal species permissible and forbidden for consumption. Land animals may be eaten only if they have split hooves and also chew their cud; fish must have fins and scales; a list of non-kosher birds is given, and a list of kosher insects (four types of locusts).
Also in Shemini are some of the laws of ritual purity, including the purifying power of the mikvah (a pool of water meeting specified qualifications) and the wellspring. Thus the people of Israel are enjoined to “differentiate between the impure and the pure.
“These shall you abominate from among the birds, they may not be eaten – they are an abomination… the chasidah.” (Vayikra 11:13,19)
The chasidah, according to the translation I found, is a type of non-kosher stork. The name chasidah comes from the word chesed, kindness. Why would a bird with the name ‘kindness’ be listed amongst the non-kosher birds?
Rashi, commenting in the Gemara (Chullin 63a), attributes the name chasidah to the kindness it displays to other members of its species, by giving them food. This attribute of the chassidah certainly adds more weight to the question on why it’s not kosher! If anything, one would think this is the most kosher bird around!
The Chidushei HaRim explains that the chasidah displays its kindness only to others of its kind, not anybody else.
When the Torah commands us to do chesed to one another, it did not tell us to chesed only to those of our ‘group’. Yes, there ARE priorities on who to give tzedakkah to, however, dealing with chesed in general, there is no such limit. When a person needs help from you, whether they wear a shtrimal with payas, a black hat, a knitted-kipa, or no kipa at all, you have an obligation to help them! Nowhere does the Torah tell us to help only those from their own ‘species’. When chesed needs to be done, we are obligated to help out whoever is in need.
A second lesson is to be learned from the chasidah. Doing acts of kindness is not a sign of being kosher. A question was once asked to a rabbi I know, by a wealthy person, “Yes, I don’t keep Torah and mitzvos, BUT I DO give a lot of tzedakkah. Does that not make me a good Jew?” The Rav, being a very straight forward person replied, “No, it does not. A good person: yes. A good Jew: no.
”Tzedakkah and other forms of chesed are certainly worthy endeavors, but they are not a sign of kashrus. The Torah has given us a whole list of mitzvos and we are obligated to do our best to keep EVERY one of them! Yes, one will receive reward for the chesed he or she does, however they will also be held accountable for all the other mitzvos they ignored.
From the chasidah we see these two remarkable lessons on chesed: Firstly, we need to keep in mind that chesed is only one of MANY mitzvos that we are commanded and obligated to do. Secondly, we must remind ourselves that our obligation to do chesed is obligatory concerning all Jews. May we merit to be conduits of chesed for all of Bnei Yisroel.