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The Flying Rebbetzin

I was at a bar mitzvah this morning, and the rabbi in his remarks referenced the laws of kashrut mentioned in this week's Torah portion - parshat Shmini. One of the non-kosher birds identified in the parsha is the stork, or chasidah in Hebrew. The rabbi proceeded to share some words of Torah in connection to the stork... which brought to mind my earlier memories of a stork, which, dear reader, I am sharing with you below...


Over the course of your student life, you take a lot of tests, and schools have all sorts of ways of assessing the full range of a students knowledge and ability in a number of subjects and academic areas. In other words, schools tackle the essential task of knowing what students know. I did relatively OK as a student (i.e. I was a fairly average student), and I found taking tests to be a pretty unpleasant and anxious experience overall. God must have had mercy on me because on one of my final exams, on a sunny day in June 1990, a few days before I was about to graduate, he saved the best test for last.


It was the final exam for my Ivrit (Hebrew language) class. In this class in particular, I was a below-average student, and the thought of having to sit through a two-hour final exam in a hot and stuffy school gym was excruciating. The main component of the exam was a sight-unseen short story, entirely in Hebrew, with no Hebrew-English dictionary in sight or any pictures to help you with your understanding, and you were tested on your comprehension and other forms of other higher-level thinking. The name of the story was “Hachasidah“:


“החסידה”


A chasidah is a stork, and the root of the Hebrew word chasidah is chesed, “kindness,” indicating the character of the bird.


This particular short story tells of a man who is sitting home alone when a stork flies too low and crashes into his window, breaking its leg. The man gently picks up the wounded bird and brings it into his home, tending to its wounds over many days. He bandages the stork’s leg, keeps it warm in a box by his bed, and holding it tenderly in his arms, feeds it with a baby bottle while stroking the bird’s wings. And when the stork is healed, he takes it outside and it flies away. A few days later, he hears a commotion on his roof. The stork has brought hundreds of other storks with it, and they have landed on his roof, their long pointy beaks singing songs of praise to the man, todah, todah, todah, repaying his kindness. And then they lift off and fly away, never to be seen again. The end.


However, that’s not how I read the story, not in the least. In fact, how I understood the story was waaaaay more interesting.


We already determined that the story was called Hachasidah, החסידה, The Stork. Because I had no pictures to guide me or a dictionary to translate, when I read the title, my mind went to what it knew, which wasn’t a whole lot. You see, every noun in Hebrew has a gender, either masculine or feminine (or both), and you can also designate the gender of the noun (in this case, the stork) by adding a ה to the ending of the noun, although not in all cases. For example, איש means man and אשה means woman. כלב means a male dog and כלבה means a female dog. And so my mind saw this:


“חסיד”



Which meant that when you add a ה to the ending of the noun, it becomes female, and so this is what I then saw in my mind when I read the title:


“חסידה



And to my sheer delight and utter amazement, the short story I read was about a man who is sitting home alone when wondrously, miraculously, a flying chassideshe woman flies too low and crashes into his window, breaking her heimeshe leg. The man gently picks up the wounded woman (did he not know about the laws of shomer negiah?), and brings her into his home, tending to her wounds over many days. He bandages the woman’s leg, keeps her warm in a box by his bed, and holding her tenderly in his arms, feeds her with a baby bottle while stroking the woman’s “fliegelach.“ And when the chassideshe lady is fully healed, he takes her outside and she flies away. A few days later, he hears a commotion on his roof. The aforementioned chassideshe woman has brought hundreds of other flying chassideshe women with her, and they have landed on his roof, which is by now covered in Shabbos robe-wearing rebbetzins and balabustas, some with fancy sheitels and others in plain tiechels, their long pointy Jewish beaks singing songs of praise to the man, todah, todah, todah (a dank, a dank, a dank in Yiddish), repaying his kindness. And then they lift off and fly away, never to be seen again. The end.


It was by far the best short story I have ever read in my life.


It goes without saying that I failed the test spectacularly.


Yet to this day, it was the best test I ever took.

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