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  • Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier

What one young girl taught me

Parshas Shemini


Several years ago, we hosted a group of middle-school girls who were attending the Chidon Mitzvos competition here in Crown Heights. During their stay, I noticed an exceptional friendliness towards the new girls they were meeting, and wanted to compliment them on it. One of the non-kosher birds listed in the sedra of that week (Shemini) is the chasidah, stork. Why is it called chasidah? Rashi explains that it’s because it acts with chassidus, kindness, towards its friends by sharing its food. In that case, I asked the girls, why is this bird listed as not kosher?! The Chidushei haRim explains that the chasidah shows kindness towards its friends, and someone who’s kind exclusively to their friends is a treifeh chossid. This, I figured, would be a good way to highlight the kindness these girls demonstrated to all the new girls they were meeting, even those not yet considered friends. But I was caught off guard when, without much deliberation, one of the girls called out her own answer. “It was created that way.” In her sharp, clear mind, this young girl captured the essence of middos tovos as explained in Chassidus.

There was once a Yid who was a great talmid chacham and had exceptional middos. Not being a chossid himself, he asked the chossid Reb Zalman Zezmer what exactly Chassidus added in his life. Reb Zalman gave him an answer but still the Yid went to present his question to the Alter Rebbe directly. “All living creatures,” the Alter Rebbe explained, “possess character traits. The vulture is ‘cruel’ and the eagle is ‘kind.’ But these traits are innate. Humans, by contrast, are meant to control and develop the character they were born with through their intellect. Hashem gave us many mitzvos, and each one is an opportunity to further develop our character, beyond our innate nature.” Hearing this, the Yid fainted. He was an honest and earnest person, and as he reflected on the Alter Rebbe’s words, he realized that in all his years he had not yet surpassed the level of an animal. After coming to, the Yid persisted with his question. “So,” he asked, “that’s what life is without Chassidus. But what is life with Chassidus?” The Alter Rebbe replied: The objective of Chassidus is to strive to understand and internalize G-dliness, even those ideas which at first transcend human comprehension. This process, in turn, makes it possible to transform our character beyond its inborn nature. Like that intuitive little girl said, a chossid who acts solely on his natural inclination is not a true, kosher chossid. If he doesn’t push beyond “it was created that way” he hasn’t earned the title chossid. This girl’s explanation is actually an elaboration of the Chidushei haRim’s. Someone who is kind only to their own group of friends isn’t going beyond themselves. But when someone is also kind to those who are not in their circle of friends, this is a result of refining their character beyond its natural state. Ashreinu that we have Chassidus and ashreinu that these are our children who will march us towards Moshiach tzidkeinu; may it be speedily in our days. Gut Shabbos, Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier


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