Hadrash VeHaiyun Dor Revi’i

By Efraim Levine





These shall you abominate from among the fowl, they may not be eaten. They are an abomination; the nesher the peres, the oznia; (Vayikra 11:13)


In this week’s parsha we learn about the non-kosher birds. The Torah here and in parshas Re’eh (Devarim 14:12) lists the non-kosher birds. According to the Gemara’s calculation there are twenty-four species of non-kosher birds. All other birds not listed are automatically kosher as long as they have one of four signs. They are 1) crop 2) an extra finger 3) a gizzard that can be peeled and 4) the bird is known not to be a predator.


The Gemara (Chullin 61b) relates a tradition that twenty of the twenty-four non-kosher birds listed in the Torah exhibit three of the four kosher signs. The oreiv exhibits two of the four signs. The peres and ozniyah each have only one sign and the nesher has none. Rashi explains that any bird that lacks all four signs must automatically be included in the species of the nesher and is non-kosher. All other birds that have even one kosher sign are permitted as long as they are not those listed in the Torah. However, because we do not know the identity of the non-kosher birds listed in the Torah we may only eat a bird that has all four signs, for only then may we be certain that it is not included in the list of twenty-four non-kosher birds which have at most three signs. Today, we are not absolutely sure how to identify these four signs and therefore may eat only those birds which have a tradition of being kosher.


Parenthetically we note here that the common translation for nesher is eagle. The commentators note that this is problematic for the Gemara clearly says that the nesher lacks all four signs. Eagles do have extra fingers, one of the four kosher signs. This leads many of the commentators to assume the nesher is not the eagle and speculate as to its true identity.


It emerges from the Gemara that the paradigm of a non-kosher bird is the nesher for it lacks all four signs.


The posuk says concerning the Exodus, “You have seen what I did to Egypt and that I carried you in the wings of nesharim and brought you to Me” (Shemos 19:4). Rashi explains the Hashem chose to describe taking out the Jewish people from Egypt with the metaphor of “upon the wings of the nesherim” because a nesher flies above all other birds and is not concerned of being attacked from above. Its only fear is that it might be shot at from below by an arrow. The nesher therefore carries its children above its wings and says, better that the arrow penetrate me and not my children. Similarly, Hashem protected the Jewish people as they left Egypt by moving the pillar of cloud behind them to intercept any projectiles that may be thrown at them by the Egyptians.


We may still ask, why did Hashem choose to allegorically describe his saving the Jewish people with a reference to the nesher. The nesher stands out from all birds as a paradigm of non-kosher?


When Moshe introduced himself to the Jewish people and told them that Hashem has sent him to redeem them from their suffering and lead them out of Egypt he used the words “pokod pakaditi,” i.e., “I have indeed taken account of you.” Rashi explains that the Jewish people immediately believed him because they had a sign dating back form the times of Yaakov and Yosef that the person who will say these words will be their true redeemer.


We may suggest that Hashem chose to allegorically describe the redemption specifically with the metaphor of a nesher for it has no simmanim, i.e., signs. This alludes to the actual redemption which came about suddenly and unexpectedly without any sign whatsoever. Although the Jewish people had a sign that Moshe would be their true redeemer and had witnessed many miracles in Egypt leading up to the redemption, the actual method and moment was like the nesher, sudden without any sign and warning.


Chazal tell us that what has happened to our forefathers is a sign for us. All commentators agree that we live in times indicative that redemption is close. However, the actual moment and method of redemption will occur when Hashem comes and carries us on the wings of nesharim. The nesher has no simmanim. It will occur suddenly without warning.