Parashat Shemini details Kashrut laws and which animals, birds, fish, and insects are allowed for consumption. Related to Chazal’s saying that one takes on the habits of that which he eats, many birds are forbidden because it has a negative attribute of some sort. For example, most predators are forbidden because hunting is cruelty that we do not wish to adopt. However, two forbidden birds’ names – the Chasidah, or kind bird, and the Racham, or merciful bird (VaYikra 11:18-19) – display clearly positive attributes. According to Rashi, the word Chasidah’s etymology derives from Chesed, kindness, because it (a stork, according to most translations) shares its food. Similarly, Ba’al HaTurim and Ibn Ezra explain that the Racham is thus named because it treats its young with mercy. Why are these birds, which exemplify positive attributes, forbidden?
The Rizhiner Rebbe explains that the Chasidah is not kosher because it is merciful only to those similar to it, but Jews must be merciful to everyone and therefore do not eat such a discriminatorily merciful bird. The Netzach Yisrael comments that the Racham is more merciful than the Chasidah because it brings mercy to the world (Chullin 63a), and Chazal named it “Shrakrak,” related to “Shrak” (“to befriend” in Mishnaic Hebrew), but repeated the last syllable to extend the meaning to a more extreme degree, a normal Biblical literature device (for instance, Adom means red, but Adomdam means deep red). According to Rashi, the name “Racham” refers only to its call, but the Netzach Yisrael states that this name is its nature and is called both “Mercy Bird” and “Befriending Bird” because its act of befriending others of its kind causes Hashem to be merciful on the whole world. Though it is not kosher because it is not kind or merciful to other species, we still should emulate its friendliness to its own. The Netzach Yisrael concludes by saying that Mashiach will come only when people internalize the Shrakrak’s message by being kind to each other. May we follow the Racham’s lead so Mashiach will come BiMeheira BeYameinu.