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Feb. 3, 2022

To Be a Bird (Terumah)

Your 2-year-old kid is in the middle of a tantrum and as such, you have a goal: make the kid laugh. You try tickling him, it doesn’t work. You try telling a joke, it doesn’t work. Instinctively, you then do what most parents do. You start acting like an animal. “Look at me, Daddy’s a monkey,” you say as you hold your ears and puff your cheeks. The kid slowly begins to form a smile. Your brain is now moving quickly. “Oh, look at me, Daddy’s a dog!” you say as you literally go on all fours and start barking. The kid actually starts laughing. Tantrum time has officially ended.

My friends, it’s pretty easy to pretend to be a monkey or a dog, or any other land animal for that matter. But, if you think about it, it is extremely difficult to pretend to be a bird. Why is that? Well, quite obviously, it is impossible to stay off the ground for more than a second or two. As humans, we are confined to earth due to gravity, and we cannot fly in the air. The bird is so unrelatable, it is so beyond comparison to our human capabilities, it would do almost no good even pretending to be a bird. Honestly, the kid would probably start crying instead of laughing if he were to see you try to do this.

Ironically, Judaism is replete with connections and associations between the Jewish people and birds. And I know what you’re thinking. Birds? Really? The Jewish people are compared to birds? A bird is merely a group of warm-blooded vertebrates constituting the class Aves, characterized by feathers, toothless beaked jaws, the laying of hard-shelled eggs, a high metabolic rate, a four-chambered heart, and a strong yet lightweight skeleton. How in the world are the Jewish people compared to these interesting creatures? Good question.

When I was reading through Parshas Terumah, I happened to come across a fascinating idea from the Chizkuni in Perek 25, Verse 20. The Torah says: וְהָי֣וּ הַכְּרֻבִים֩ פֹּרְשֵׂ֨י כְנָפַ֜יִם לְמַ֗עְלָה סֹכְכִ֤ים בְּכַנְפֵיהֶם֙ עַל־הַכַּפֹּ֔רֶת וּפְנֵיהֶ֖ם אִ֣ישׁ אֶל־אָחִ֑יו אֶ֨ל־הַכַּפֹּ֔רֶת יִהְי֖וּ פְּנֵ֥י הַכְּרֻבִֽים׃

-       The cherubim shall have their wings spread out above, shielding the cover with their wings. They shall confront each other; the faces of the cherubim being turned toward the cover.

The Chizkuni says: פרשי כנפים: כדמות עופות על שם שבריה זו נקיה ורוב הלוכה באויר בלא טינוף

To explain, the Cherubim atop the Aron had wings spread out, which gave it the appearance of birds! Birds, says the Chizkuni, are generally clean creatures due to the fact that they spend most of their time in the air, as opposed to the dirty ground.

I couldn’t help but think how fundamental this idea is for our עבודת ה'. Where do we spend most of our time? Where is most of our הלוכה? What path are we on most? The spiritual - clean, elevated, and holy - path, or the physical - dirty, lowly, and unholy - path. The Cherubim had their wings spread up high over the Torah which was housed beneath it inside the Aron. A life of Torah is a life of spiritual elevation. When we live by the Torah, we can tap into a clean, pure, and holy life.

Our connection to birds is much closer than we may think. A bird is so clean because it spends so much time in the cleanliness of the celestial sphere. Similarly, the Jewish people are meant to spiritually fly high and journey through the “air,” living life in a clean, pure, holy, and elevated way.

Have a holy Shabbos! Ori Strum