Picture of the author
Picture of the author
War bannerWar banner

The Complainer

When All You Can See Are Carcasses, There is Something Wrong With You

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

    5690 views
  • August 10, 2023
  • |
  • 23 Av 5783
  • Comment

Class Summary:

One on the non-kosher birds listed in this week’s portion is called the “Raah,” the Kite, which has remarkable eyesight. The Talmud testifies: “This bird stands in Babylon, and sees a carcass in the Land of Israel!” Now, that’s impressive, being that the distance between Babylon (present day Iraq) and Israel is some 500 miles. 

But why does the Talmud use such a strange illustration? And why is this bird not kosher? Surely keen eyesight and perception are worthy traits! And why is the name of this bird not mentioned in Shemini, the first time the Torah presents the “kosher list” of birds?

Here we will see how a short observation in the Talmud contains a profound psychological insight which can serve as a blueprint for life .Why are there some people who never stop criticizing everything and everybody—their spouses, their community, their rabbi, and their synagogue? And why are there people who when they discuss Israel they see only its evil, as though it was doing nothing but producing Palestinian corpses? And why did Reb Shmuel Munkes take out a knife to the preacher who came to chastise the community and warn it about its terrible sins?

In memory of Zalman Hershel ben Ettel who passed away 8 months ago after a protracted illness. May the merit of Torah learning bring him peace. Dedicated by his sister Rina bas Ettel

The Raah Bird

This week’s portion Re'eh repeats—for the second time in the Torah[1]—G-d’s “Kosher List,” of mammals, fish and birds, suitable for Jewish consumption. In the category of birds, the Torah enumerates twenty-four species of birds which are not kosher. One of them is called by three names—the Raah, Dayah and Ayah.[2]

The Talmud explains[3] that these are three names for the same bird. The Torah specifies all of them, because if it would mention only one name, then if someone knows the bird by one of its names not mentioned in the Torah, he might have entertained the idea that it was kosher.

What type of bird is this Raah/Ayah/Dayah creature? Many have translated it as the Vulture or the Hawk. Yet, after all the research, it seems that the most accurate translation for the Raah bird is the Kite, or in its scientific term—the Milvus. Indeed, in Arabic the Kite is known as the “Chadaa” (חדאא), quite similar to the biblical Dayah.[4]

Three Names

Why three names for the same bird? “Raah” stems from the verb “to see.” “Dayah” is from the verb "to fly, sore, or glide." “Ayah” is from the verb “to wail, scream, cry.” All these names describe characteristics of this bird. This Kite indeed is scattered all over the Middle East, feeding chiefly on smaller birds, mice, reptiles, and fish. In the capture of fish the Kite is almost as expert as the osprey (the “Shalach” in the biblical language), darting from a great height into the water, and bearing off the fish in its claws. The wings of the Kite are long and powerful, bearing it through the air in a peculiarly graceful flight. That is why it has been called the Glede or the Kite, representing its gliding movements.

The sight of this bird is remarkably keen and piercing. From the vast elevation to which it soars when in search of food, it is able to survey the face of the land beneath, and to detect the partridge, quail, chicken, or other creature that will become its food.

Should the Kite suspect danger near its nest, it escapes by darting rapidly into the air, soaring at a vast height above the trees among which its home is made. From that elevation it can act as a sentinel, due to its incredible eyesight, and will not come down until it is assured of safety.

The Talmud’s Observation

What is remarkable is that seventeen centuries before all of the scientific research, the Talmud described it in a few words: [5]

אמר רב אבהו, ראה זו איה,ולמה נקרא שמה ראה? שרואה ביותר. וכן הוא אומר [6] נָתִיב לֹא יְדָעוֹ עָיִט, וְלֹא שְׁזָפַתּוּ עֵין אַיָּה. תנא עומדת בבבל ורואה נבלה בארץ ישראל!

Rabbi Abahu said, the Raah bird is the same as the Ayah. Why is this bird it called "Raah?" Because it sees exceedingly well.

The Talmud proceeds to prove this from a verse in Job:[7]"There is a path which no bird of prey knows; and which the kite’s eye has not seen." The very fact that the biblical verse underscores the fact that the Kite’s eye has not perceived the hidden path indicates that the kite usually possesses piercing vision.

The Talmud continues to illustrate the kite’s keen eyesight:

We have learnt that this bird stands in Babylon, and sees a carcass in the Land of Israel!

Now, that’s impressive, being that the distance between Babylon (present day Iraq) and Israel is some 500 miles.[8]

Three Questions

The obvious question is why the Talmud uses such a strange illustration: “This bird stands in Babylon and sees a carcass in the Land of Israel!” It could have used so many more examples of what the bird is capable of seeing and where it is capable of seeing it.

Another, more substantial question: The reason some animals are not kosher is because the negative characteristics these animals possess can have a negative impact on their consumer. “You are what you eat” is not only a cliché. It is why we are instructed to abstain from eating certain animals whose traits we would not wish to incorporate into our psyche. Kosher animals, on the other hand, are characterized by peaceful traits that are worth imitating. [9]

But why, then, is this bird not kosher? Surely keen eyesight and perception are worthy traits. Shouldn't this bird then be kosher? [10]

What Do You See?

The Talmud is not only illustrating the keen vision of the Kite, or the Raah; it is also explaining to us why it is not kosher: “This bird stands in Babylon, and sees a carcass in the Land of Israel!” When you gaze at the land of Israel, you can see many things, including many positive and heartwarming items; yet what does this bird see? Corpses! Being a carnivorous bird, which kills, devours and eats the meat of other animals, its eyes gaze at Eretz Yisroel but observe only one thing: the carcasses in the land! [11]

This is what makes it a non-kosher animal—because this quality is prevalent among some people as well, and we do not want to “eat” and incorporate this type of behavior into our psyche.

Helpless Critics

Some people are simply chronic complainers. They will gaze at their wife, children, relatives, and community members and all they will see are flaws, deficiencies, mishaps, and negative attributes.

Some people never stop criticizing everybody and everything. While some see the good in everybody, even in the worst situation or person, these characters manage to somehow see the evil in everybody and in everything. They can always show you how everyone has an “agenda,” and everyone is driven by ulterior motives; there are smelly carcasses everywhere.

Are they right? They may be partially, or even completely correct. Every person has flaws. Even the greatest saint has demons; even a great man usually has some skeleton—a corpse—in his closet. That is why we need a Torah to guide us, and that is why the Torah asks of us to never stop working on ourselves, to challenge our conventions, to scrutinize our motives, to refine our behavior, to make amends of our mistakes. But why is that the only thing you manage to observe?

The “Holy” Preacher

A story:[12]

A renowned Maggid (traveling preacher) arrived one day at the hometown of Reb Shmuel Munkes, a noted disciple of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, who was a deeply pious man with an incredible sense of humor. After reading his letter of approbation, lauding him as a tzaddik wont to wander from town to town for the sole purpose of inspiring fellow Jews, the townspeople—who were simple, G-d fearing, innocent Jews—invited him to preach.

Throughout his sermon the Maggid berated his fine audience, chastising them for “dreadful sins.” He rebuked them, for being such terrible, lowly and horrendous Jews, evoking G-d’s wrath. He proceeded to describe in vivid detail the severe punishment that awaited them as a result of their evil ways. When finished, the proud orator quickly retired to his room, leaving his crestfallen audience to wail over their horrific moral state and the Divine retribution about to befall them.

No sooner had he made himself comfortable, when a man walked into his room. It was Reb Shmuel himself.

Reb Shmuel took out a long knife and a sharpening stone entered his room. He proceeded to sharpen his knife.

After a few tense and wordless moments, the Maggid broke the silence. “What’s this all about?” he asked with a look of astonishment.

His eyes still trained on the sharpening stone, Rabbi Shmuel Munkes replied in mock sincerity: “As the honorable Maggid knows, we simple folk never had the merit of having a righteous scholar in our midst. Who knows, perhaps it is because of our wanton sins you just described.”

Bemused as to where this was heading, the Maggid replied, “Yes, yes, but what does any of this have to do with the knife you are sharpening?”

“Well,” retorted Reb Shmuel, “We were taught by our parents that before Rosh Hashanah one should pray at the gravesites of the righteous. And sadly, we never had in our cemetery the grave of a righteous man. All of our residents—as you have eloquently described us—have been utterly wicked.”

“Of course, of course, nodded the Maggid. But why the knife!?”

“It's rather simple,” explained Reb Shmuel calmly. “The nearest burial site of a tzaddik is very far from our town. It is extremely cumbersome for the townsfolk to make the yearly trek. We decided that we finally need to have a righteous man buried in our midst.

“After hearing your speech,” Reb Shmuel continued in a straight face, “I know there is no one more holy and righteous than you in our entire region. So I decided to… slaughter you and bury you right here in our very own cemetery. Finally, before Rosh Hashanah, we will be able to come pray at your sacred grave site.” 

As the grim reality began to set in, the Maggid adeptly switched course. “Come to think of it,” he stammered, “I am not all that righteous after all. I have committed some small sins here and there; they were obviously all inadvertent.”

Reb Shmuel dismissed the Maggid's confession: “Honored Maggid! You are still very righteous and learned. As for the transgressions? They are so minor; who would even know that these were sins. Your humility is nothing but proof of your exceptional righteousness. Besides, relative to our heinous sins—which you have just described in your sermon—you are, trust me, a complete tzaadik! You are the man we need buried here.”

By now, Reb Shmuel was done with the sharpening of the knife. The “holy preacher” began to panic.

“On second thought,” stuttered the Maggid, “Some of my transgressions were a bit more serious, such as…” He went on to share some immoral things he has done in his life, which disqualified him from being a tzaddik. Rabbi Shmuel quickly dismissed these as well: “To us you are still a great Tzaddik. You are far better than anything we have.”

Finally, the Maggid confessed to some rather ugly and embarrassing transgressions. He admitted that in truth he was far from the great tzaddik that he portrayed himself to be. He was actually a disgraceful low life.

Now, it was Rabbi Shmuel’s turn to preach: “How dare you admonish these beautiful, innocent and pure Jews, when you yourself are a despicable, immoral charlatan! How dare you cause such fine, lovely, well-intended Jews so much anguish. It is you who needs to transform his life; it is you who needs to repent for all of his transgressions.

The Maggid got the message. He left the town in deep inner shame. He never again rebuked his audiences with stern, harsh words.

The Mirror

How did Reb Shmuel know that this guy was really playing a game and that he was far from holy?

The answer is simple: When you are pure and holy, you see innocence and purity in others. When you are in touch with your own soul, you sense the soul in others. When you have a genuine relationship with G-d, and your appreciation of the G-dliness within every person is far more palpable. When you don’t suffer from an inflated ego, or from terrible insecurity, you will truly appreciate the goodness in others.

To be sure, there are corpses, skeletons, demons and ghosts in almost every human person; that is what makes them human. Even the Holy Land has its share of carcasses—physical and psychological. But when that is the only thing you see, it means that you are a non-kosher person. You need your own cleansing.

The Bias Toward Israel Today

This insight of our sages concerning the non-kosher Raah bird is so relevant today when it comes to Israel.

Is Israel a perfect country? We all know the answer. Israel has many challenges and problems. Is the government perfect? Only a fool can think so. Over the last three decades, the Israeli leadership has made some historical errors which might take generations to fix.

But there are those who when they look at Israel see nothing but “corpses.” In our own day and age, with modern technology, we were all blessed with the eyesight of the Kite. We sit in our homes in Babylon (or US, or Canada, or Europe, Australia, South Africa, or anywhere else in the world), and with the help of CNN or BBC or other news cameras, we can see Israel. But often, all the reporters, journalists, bloggers, academics, and politicians see in Israel are stinky corpses. When they report on Israel, you would think that the country does nothing besides producing Palestinian Children's corpses.

And this is how you know how terribly biased and unfair they are. When someone criticizes Israel—that is legitimate. There is much to comment and argue about. But when one has nothing but criticism for Israel, when there is nothing good to say about Israel, when Israel is portrayed as the most racist country—then you know it has nothing to do with Israel; rather, the person spewing the hate is treif.

At the end of the day, it is all a matter of perspective. Each of us has to choose what we are going to see—in ourselves and in the world around us.

_______________

[1] The first time in Leviticus chapter 11, in the portion of Shemini.

[2] Deuteronomy 14:13

[3] Chulin 63b, quoted in Rashi to Deuteronomy ibid.

[4] The bird is mentioned another two times in the Bible: Isaiah 34:15, "There shall the kites [dayos] also be gathered, every one with her mate." In Job 28:7, there is a similar word, ayah. This verse is quoted below in the essay.

[5] Chulin 63b

[6] Job 28:7

[7] Job ibid.

[8] The Maharal of Prague, in his book Beer Hagoleh, explains this in two possible ways: It means literally that this bird has extraordinary vision. Another possible explanation is that this bird in its most perfect state possesses this ability, though practically, the physical bird is always flawed. This is based on the prevalent idea in Jewish philosophy and in the works of the Maharal that every being and object possesses two dimensions: its tzurah and its chomer. The tzurah is the abstract form of this particular object; it is the concept of this object in its most perfect and ideal form. Chomer is the way it is manifested practically in a concrete and flawed universe. This duality is a major theme in the works of the Greek Philosopher Plato.

[9] See Ramban on Leviticus 11:12. See also Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah end of section 81.

[10] This bird is indeed carnivorous, which makes it non-kosher (see references in previous footnote.) Yet the fact that the list of non-kosher birds the Torah titles it as “Raah,” indicates that this quality itself, its keen eyesight, is part of what it makes it non-kosher.  Yet, we would think that keen eyesight is a positive quality!

[11] In other words, this bird possesses two negative qualities: it is carnivorous, and it “sees” nothing but the carcasses.

[12] I copied some paragraphs of  the story from an article by Rabbi Yosef Kahanov http://www.crownheights.info/index.php?itemid=23516

Tags

Show More

Categories

Please leave your comment below!

  • Z

    Zalman -4 years ago

    Yasher koach.

    Sholoch birg: 
     
    The osprey indeed swoops down from high above, but grabs its prey with its claws from the top of the water.
     
    The sholoch is really a cormorant - שולה דגים מן הים...  which dives deeper down and scoops the fish in its beak and swallows it.
     
    Hence, the Talmud brings on the verse משפטיך תהום רבה etc -- for this happens in the Tehom.
     
    Search videos.

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

    • MB

      Mesod Belilo -4 years ago

      Very interesting article. As a keen birdwatcher of 45 years standing, I seem to take issue with the conclusion that the RAAH is the kite. Kites do have ver keen eyesight but they do not look for carcasses. Instead they look for living creatures which they hunt for eating. It is the vulture that detects carcasses and feed on them and they do not hunt living animals. In fact they detect dead animals (Nebelot) at very great distances by smell and not by eyesight, which they communicate to other members of their species and they all flock together to feed on the carcass. Hence both the eagles (kites) and vultures are forbidden birds.

      Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • A

    Avriel -4 years ago

    This is what the Pele Yoetz writes about Reincarnation:
    One who looks at illicit things is reincarnated as a bird called a ra’ah (lit. gazer, someone who sees), which is unfaithful by looking at others. The allusion for this is in (BaMidbar, 15:39), “... and you shall not go searching after your hearts and your eyes, which you are wont to go astray after them.” 

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • CE

    Chaya Etta -4 years ago

    Shalom from the Holy City of Jerusalem

    Shalom from the Holy City of Jerusalem,

    Who would have ever believed that after 2000 years of wandering that when the opportunity to return to THE Promised Land that not every Jew would be beyond excited to finally come home? 

    Well without a doubt there is still much to do here...and is waiting for each and every Jew to finally come home and help build the House of G-d here in this physical world. Challenging for sure...and also one of the greatest opportunities of a lifetime.

    After almost 40 years here I can only tell you that for nine months of the year we wake up to sunshine and clear blue skies as the backdrop to our lives. The energy and light here is like nowhere else in the world and in spite of the struggle we are HOME...now we need to figure out how to live here together firstly in peace amongst ourselves, and ultimately in peace with all of humanity. I am an eternal optimist, I think it is in the DNA of every Jew...because ultimately we are a piece of the Creator Himself and our job is to bring Heaven down to earth. Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Elul Tov from the heart of the Planet. ❤️🇮🇱

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • G

    Gavriel -5 years ago

    Rabbi Jacobson,

    Thank you for beautiful, well written article. I wonder if it would resonate with those who are suffering from this biased, only negative view of Israel?

    Not necessarily just emailing them the article but somehow creating a dialogue?

    Often we dismiss any possibility of reaching anyone at CNN or pro Palestenian, boycott Israel supportors, with the foregone conclusion of "Eisav Soneh Es Yaakov" It hopeless until Moshiach comes. . . . .

    There have been some succesful attempts and there are videos of one former terrorist  who is now supporter of Israel after experiencing real time with good Israelis and seing that the info they grew up with, in reality were only propaganda and libel's.

    (One is a TED talk and youtube videos see Mousab Hassan Yosef and book Son of Hamas, the Geen Prince also his speaking ay UN against  Hamas leadership and UN bias. 

    There are organizations working o media war but not from a Torah perpective  I suggest you may be extremely successful and tremendous opportunity exist via social media to reach thousands with true facts and evidence of how good Israel and Israely really are, and the Torah viwpoint will resonate and have phenomenal impact.

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • E

    Ester -5 years ago

    Beautifully written!

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • B

    Batya -5 years ago

    Thank you very much. I enjoy Rabbi Jacobson written or on videos immensely.

    Gutt Shabbos.

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • JB

    Judy Baldinger -5 years ago

    The complainer

    Dear Rabbi Jacobson,

    Can we look at the acute eyesight of the Kite in the following way?  Even though the Kite can see far, he can only see 'what's in it for me' wherever he looks.  Self centeredness can only be a carcass that can not lead to growth.  This limitation makes him unfit to be kosher, and always at a 'dead end.'

    Enjoying each week's email.

    Judy Baldinger

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • Anonymous -6 years ago

    Self Criticism

    How would this apply to someone who always only sees the negative in himself?

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

Essay Re'eh/Shmini

Rabbi YY Jacobson
  • August 10, 2023
  • |
  • 23 Av 5783
  • |
  • 5690 views
  • Comment
In memory of Zalman Hershel ben Ettel who passed away 8 months ago after a protracted illness. May the merit of Torah learning bring him peace. Dedicated by his sister Rina bas Ettel

Class Summary:

One on the non-kosher birds listed in this week’s portion is called the “Raah,” the Kite, which has remarkable eyesight. The Talmud testifies: “This bird stands in Babylon, and sees a carcass in the Land of Israel!” Now, that’s impressive, being that the distance between Babylon (present day Iraq) and Israel is some 500 miles. 

But why does the Talmud use such a strange illustration? And why is this bird not kosher? Surely keen eyesight and perception are worthy traits! And why is the name of this bird not mentioned in Shemini, the first time the Torah presents the “kosher list” of birds?

Here we will see how a short observation in the Talmud contains a profound psychological insight which can serve as a blueprint for life .Why are there some people who never stop criticizing everything and everybody—their spouses, their community, their rabbi, and their synagogue? And why are there people who when they discuss Israel they see only its evil, as though it was doing nothing but producing Palestinian corpses? And why did Reb Shmuel Munkes take out a knife to the preacher who came to chastise the community and warn it about its terrible sins?

Related Classes

Please help us continue our work
Sign up to receive latest content by Rabbi YY

Join our WhatsApp Community

Join our WhatsApp Community

Ways to get content by Rabbi YY Jacobson
Connect now
Picture of the authorPicture of the author