By Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Many wonderful things were said in praise of the Jewish people by our own holy prophets and sages. Yet, every morning, we begin our prayers with the words of the evil prophet Bilam, a man who would have cursed the nation in exchange for gold and silver, had G‑d only allowed it—“How goodly are your tents, Yaakov, your dwelling places, Yisrael” (Bamidbar 24:5). Some explanation is needed. And so, we have this story, which I heard from my teacher, Rabbi Elimelech Zwiebel:
In another dimension of time, in a world beyond ours, is a forest filled with magnificent creatures. Of all the creatures there, the birds are the most spectacular; and of all the birds, the tzidikel bird is more beautiful than them all. And of all the tzidikel birds, one stands out with dazzling beauty, beyond anything words can describe.
Every morning in this splendorous forest, the creatures gather before sunrise about the tree of the tzidikel bird. As the sun reaches the tops of the trees, its rays shine down through the canopy and the tzidikel opens its wings in full glory. A panorama of colors glisten and sparkle in its feathers, dancing in the sunlight like so many magical stars and fairies to entertain the bird’s delighted audience. Each morning is a more glorious spectacle than the day before. Each morning all the creatures ahhh and ooh in wonder.
All this occurred every day within that dimension of time, until, one year, a new bird came to the forest. Soon enough, the creatures began to gather at the roost of this new bird each morning, leaving the tzidikel all but alone.
“Is she then more glorious than I?” demanded the tzidikel of her few remaining faithful. “How could this be? There are no colors left in the universe that I do not possess!”
“But she,” her faithful muttered, their heads hanging in shame, “she has no colors. She is black.”
The fury of the tzidikel knew no bounds. She was the perfection of the art of beauty, and if the lack of all color was to be beautiful, then there was no beauty at all. In rage, she tore herself from her branch and flew to see her rival.
There stood the creatures of the forest in silent wonder. Perhaps it was the oils of the black bird’s feathers that refracted the light of the sun as a prism into so many rainbows. Perhaps it was the mystery of her absolute blackness, or the contrast she held against the bright morning sky. All that could be said is that it was an intangible beauty, not of something that could be painted, described, or known in any way. It was beauty as indefinable as black is dark.
“Is she then more glorious than I?!” screamed the tzidikel from her perch above the crowd.
“We cannot tell,” the animals explained, trembling. “For it is no longer dawn.”
“Very well, then,” cried the tzidikel. “We will have a contest at dawn! But who will be the judge?”
No creature dared volunteer for such a task. And neither could the two birds themselves come to a consensus. So it was decided that the two would appear at dawn at a position known only to them and the first creature to appear would adjudicate their contest.
All night they prepared their feathers and rehearsed their movements at their secret post in the forest. And as the sun began to rise, they ruffled their feathers and then with a dramatic swoosh spread them wide in the most glorious scene ever to come to the most glorious of forests. Yet there was no witness to that scene, none but the two birds themselves.
Until, from behind the bushes below, a sound was heard that almost toppled the tzidikel from her tree in horror. It was the grunt of a wild boar.
Covered in mud and smelling of its own excrement, the boar appeared, and yes, even he was delighted with the beauty that he encountered. And the two birds, surrendered to the fate of their contest, both spread their feathers and turned elegantly, displaying their pride to the pig below.
He grunted, he snorted, he coughed. He asked for a replay again and again. And after an hour or so, he finally set forth his verdict: The black bird was the most beautiful of them all.
“If so,” cried the tzidikel, “my beauty is not beauty. There is no place left for me.” And she flew away from the forest, never to be heard of again.
• • •
The tzidikel is the light G‑d brings into His creation—through miracles, through tzaddikim, through righteous acts that have no tint of personal motives. The black bird is the darkness. But when the darkness is turned to beauty, it is a beauty so great that light is dim and impotent before it.
As for the pig, it is this lowly world, the world of action, which the Creator Himself has declared the final judge of truth and beauty. v
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman is a senior member of the Chabad.org editorial team and heads the “Ask the Rabbi” team. He is the author of a number of highly original renditions of Kabbalah and Chassidic teaching, including Bringing Heaven Down to Earth.
Reprinted with permission from Chabad.org. Find more Torah articles for the whole family at www.chabad.org/parshah.