Daf Yomi

For the week ending 22 November 2008 / 24 Heshvan 5769

Kiddushin 49 - 55

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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The Flattering Stork

"Ten measures of wisdom came down from Heaven to this world - nine of them were received by Eretz Yisrael and the rest by the entire world. Ten measures of beauty came down to this world - nine of them were received by Jerusalem and the rest by the entire world."

Thus begins a long list of how certain characteristics were endowed to the various nations. One of these is the designation that ten measures of haughtiness and flattery came down to this world, and that nine of them were received by Babylon and later by Eilam.

The Tanachic source for the endowment of these two negative characteristics to Babylon is the enigmatic prophecy of Zecharia (5:9-11): "Then I raised my eyes and, behold, I saw two women go out and the wind was in their wings, and they had the wings of a stork...to build with it a house in the land of Shinar (Babylon)." Rabbi Yochanan explained that this refers to the haughtiness and flattery which descended to Babylon.

Where does the aforementioned prophecy hint at these two characteristics?

The "wind in their wings," says Rashi, is a reference to haughtiness, for the Hebrew word "ruach" is used to describe both winds and spirits, in this case the lofty spirit of haughtiness. But where is there any reference to flattery? Rashi's suggestion is that the key is the word "stork." The Hebrew word for stork is "chasidah" which sounds like the Hebrew word for kindness - "chesed." The gemara (Mesechta Chullin 63a) explains that this non-kosher bird is so called because it acts with kindness towards its friends by sharing its food with them.

Rashi's explanation leaves us puzzled. Why should the behavior of a kindness-dispensing stork be a symbol of flattery? The same question, however, has already been asked as to why the Torah prohibited eating the stork. In his commentary on Chumash (Vayikra 11:13), Ramban writes that the Torah prohibited the birds which have a cruel nature. How does this apply to the stork, which acts with kindness towards its friends?

Rabbi Yitzchak Meir (RYM), the first head of the Chassidic dynasty of Gur, explained that kindness cannot be restricted to friends, and food must be shared with all who are hungry. Selective kindness can thus be viewed as self-serving rather than as altruistic, characteristic of the insensitiveness of non-kosher birds. This may be Rashi's meaning as well: When kindness is restricted to friends it is probably the product of a self-serving interest in reciprocity, which is at the core of flattery which one showers upon an undeserving person in order to gain his favor.

  • Kiddushin 49b

What a Jew Really Wants

Even though a divorce is valid only if the man gives the get document of his own free will, there are certain situations in which the rabbinical court compels a reluctant husband to divorce his wife. The court is empowered in such circumstances to coerce the man until he declares that he wishes to go through with the divorce.

How can we rely on the consent produced by pressure, asks the gemara, when we assume from his initial reluctance that in his heart he is opposed to the divorce?

The gemara attempts to use this as proof that what is in one's heart cannot contradict what he verbalizes; but this proof is rejected because this situation may be different in that we have the right to assume that his verbalized consent is sincere, for he wishes to fulfill the mitzvah of obeying the Sages.

Rambam (Laws of Divorce 2:20) elaborates on the reason for considering valid a divorce given under pressure, and he explains as follows why this is different from someone pressured into doing something that the Torah does not require him to do, such as selling or giving away some possession:

"When someone's evil inclination has taken hold of him to avoid fulfilling a mitzvah, or to commit a sin, and he is beaten until he does what he is obligated to do or refrains from what he is forbidden to do, he is not considered as acting against his will. It is he, rather, who has coerced himself with an evil attitude to act against his true will. We therefore view the man whom we force to divorce his wife as one who truly wishes to be a part of Jewry and truly desires to fulfill the mitzvot and to refrain from sins, but who is the helpless victim of his evil inclination. Once he has been pressured to the point where his evil inclination is subdued and he declares his consent, we consider it as his having divorced of his own free will."

  • Kiddushin 50a

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