Solomon needs the Shamir!

The Torah tells us that no metal tools may be used to cut stone in the construction of the Temple. Conventional hammers and chisels were not to be used, because metal is associated with weapons that eliminate life and is thus inappropriate to be used in the construction of the Temple which embodied life and preserved and promoted life.

When King Solomon wanted to build the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which was to be made of stone, he could not use metal tools to quarry, cut and shape the stones. However, there was a special worm called the Shamir, which had the amazing ability to precisely cut and shape stones.

The Talmud relates a fascinating story how King Solomon secured the Shamir worm.

King Solomon asked the sage, Biniyahu ben Yehoyadah, to bring to him Ashmadai, a destructive demon, who knew where the Shamir was held.

Biniyahu was able to bring Ashmadai to Solomon, and Ashmadai told King Solomon that the angelic officer of the sea possessed the Shamir and the officer of the sea entrusted it to a wild hen called a Duchifas. The angel of the sea trusted the Duchifas because the Duchifas had sworn to him that it would never give the Shamir to anyone.

Binyiyahu located the nest of the Duchifas, and while it was away from its chicks, he placed a glass over the nest. The Duchifas returned, and because of the glass covering, could not reach its chicks. It flew off to get the Shamir, which was able to cut through any material without breaking it, in order to split the glass without shattering it and harming its chicks.

As the Duchifas was swooping down, Biniyahu screamed loudly and startled the bird so that it dropped the Shamir. Biniyahu grabbed the Shamir and brought it to Solomon who was able to begin the construction of the Temple.

The Talmud relates that because the Duchifas did not uphold his oath to the angel of the sea, it became so distraught that it cut its own neck taking its life.

In this week’s portion the Torah details the criterion of the kosher species of animals, fish and grasshoppers, and the Torah mentions the names of the non kosher fowl. The Duchifas – wild hen or the hoopoe – is listed as a non-kosher bird.

Usually, non-kosher animals, fish or fowl are forbidden because these species prey on others or have other bad tendencies, and were they to be ingested in the holy and spiritually sensitive body of a Jew would have detrimental effects. If so, why is the Duchifas not Kosher? After all, it has the special quality of upholding its commitment to an oath?

Commentators explain that yes, the Duchifas has this quality of keeping true to its word and commitment; however, it lacks a sense of balance. For we see that as soon as it realized that it had failed in its commitment, even though this was only through an accident, it took its own life.

The Torah ideal is that we deal with our strengths and weaknesses, our triumphs and failures in an appropriate, prescribed, balanced and thought-out manner.

Another lesson from the Duchifas: In the beginning of our morning prayers, we recite a series of 15 blessings with which we recognize and appreciate G-d for even menial functions. We recite these blessings each day to express our appreciation to G-d and to show that we never take anything for granted.

The first blessing is, Blessed are You Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who gave the rooster the understanding to distinguish between day and night.

The Pri Migadim, based on the aforementioned story of the Duchifas, explains that each night when we go to sleep, a part of our soul returns to Heaven to be spiritually recharged.  When we wake up, our Neshama – soul – returns to us from Heaven where it was reminded of the oath that we each took at Mount Sinai to uphold G-d’s laws. Accordingly, we evoke the stalwart commitment of the Duchifas – the rooster – who was true to his word and promise.

Rashi explains that this bird gets its name Chasida because it has a kind nature – however, it only performs kindness to its friends to the exclusion of everyone else. This bird is not fit for the consumption by G-d’s distinguished people; for true Chesed is when one shares in an all encompassing way!