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A Tale of Two Birds of Paradise

A Tale of Two Birds of Paradise

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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 from 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 black 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, or 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, all night 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 encountered him. 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.


I heard this story from my teacher, Rabbi Elimelech Zwiebel. And, eventually, he explained:

The pig is this lowly world, the world of action, which the Creator Himself has declared the final judge of truth and beauty. Truth, after all, is that which works in this world. And beauty is that which has meaning to the people that live here.

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.

As for the black bird, the blackness is the coarse physicality of this world itself that cloaks the divine sparks that give it life, that distorts the light from above and presents itself as pure evil. But when the darkness is transformed and turned to beauty, it is a beauty so great that all light is dimmed by its intensity.

In that way, the black bird is the baal teshuvah, the one who has sinned and then returned, transforming his darkness to light. And as the sages say, the place where the baal teshuvah has reached, even the perfect tzaddik cannot attain.

So it will be, Rabbi Zwiebel concluded, in the time to come, when “G‑d will make the darkness shine,” and then “all flesh will see”—yes, even the physical flesh will see the beauty of darkness.

Because once darkness shines, there is only light.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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princess mae pascua July 20, 2016

Can you please give me the lesson about that story? Reply

Someone AD, Australia via chabadsa.org.au November 30, 2012

Re: Tzipporah Machlah How could you say that? What you said at the end of your post, about Arabs, I disagree totally! All of the two and a half lines from the bottom in your comment seem very untrue to me. True, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I think saying what you said is taking it a bit too far. Reply

Mathew Malingi Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea November 28, 2012

A Tale of Two Birds of Paradise Knowing that the “Bird of Paradise” is a national symbol of my country Papua New Guinea, I quickly scanned through the story and found out that one of the birds of Paradise was black in color. Then I wondered whether the black was referring to the black nationals of my country. However through the explanation of your story, I understand the true meaning of the symbols like the two birds of paradise including the black one and the wild boar. The phrase “all flesh will see” remains me of Isaiah 40:5 which declares that “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed And all flesh shall see it…. And the final judge of truth and beauty could be the messages given in the following chapters or in the beginning of the Book. I don’t know. I wish I had known all those and many more. Reply

Rafael Segura i Garcia November 28, 2012

A tale of two birds Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but when it happens to be an all seeing beholder, things may be very different. Reply

EunKyung Kyungbuk, Korea July 5, 2012

Worry on Orientalism Story finding goodness through evil is very familiar in Orientalism, esp. Lao-tzu, Taoist and Buddhism.
Is it impossible we all think the kind story com from where ?

All prophets through Tanach, the Bible, prophets punishment evil, rewards righteous,

This story of black bird and the beauty bird mean much than just simple colors, as you imagine.

Truly I am worry if it contained bit of Orientalism.

Reply

D.L. A Baltimore, MD July 2, 2012

Shmuel's comment I'm not sure you "got" the idea of transforming darkness (evil) into light (good). What is beautiful and powerful is when darkness is actually transformed into something positive, such as when a person works on a negative trait like having to be in the limelight to use it for something good - excelling in tzedakah or scholarship - and eventually transcends the negative trait to doing good for its own sake, anonymously.
That's very different from whitewashing evil and labeling it good.

Get it? Chassidus has lots to say about the power released when (actual) evil in transformed to (true) good. Go and learn . . . Reply

Rabbi Jeffery Feinstein Johns Creek, Georgia via chabadofstockton.com November 18, 2011

A Tale of Two Birds of Paradise The characters in R'Freeman's story are all creations of G-d, whether here or elsewhere. Therefore, all three represent the beauty of G-d's different aspects. By G-d's word darkness turned to light. The darkness was not ugly, it was the beauty of G-d's creativity. The tzidikel was not vain, it was the beauty of G-d's shechinah. And the boar was not ugly, it was the depiction of lowly man given free will by G-d in order to see the beauty in each. Reply

Ken Decatur, L, USA via jnet.org July 28, 2011

The morning light The story is too complex for me to understand, then the thought came to me,"Have I made my life too complex for light too get through?" Reply

Dovid Yehuda Nashville July 8, 2011

To Tzipporah Machlah Tzipporah, I am glad to see you on this site. Please read more stories and articles, especially the ones about your Jewish identity.

This story is a little confusing, but what I understood from it is that the tzidikel bird represented physical beauty and the black bird represented spiritual beauty. The purpose of creation and the mission of the Jewish people is to transform our world into a fitting abode for Hashem by using the material world in mitzvot Not to lose ourselves in material beauty, or not to run away to spiritual solotude.

I could be wrong, but that is what I got from it. I would add that a blackbird may not be the best metaphor for something positive since most people have a negative association with it. Reply

izzy chicago, IL July 7, 2011

Tzipporah Machlah Please appologise for your comments:
"I am for peace,(Tehillim 120)'. Those words could be spoken as truthfully by Arabs".
I'm sure many victims may be insulted.

"I also don't understand why we think ourselves better than other nations, since we are so obviously not" as well as other expressions used are very innapropriate.

Also why compare our worst to their best,when we can compare our best to their best. Reply

Aryeh chicago, IL July 7, 2011

To Tzipporah Machlah, Sharon MA It is clear that the arabs dont want peace and are educating their childeren to hate.they have a right to say "I am for peace". It's a chutspah to say that. Go apologize to your fellow jew who was murdererd by an arab.May G-d avenge his blood. Ask them if they want peace or they want us in the sea If I do something wrong it doesn't make someone else a good person who wants peace. Reply

shmuel g brbrooklyn, NY via jnet.org July 6, 2011

tzidekel bird when the darkness is turned to beauty, it is a beauty so great that light is dim and impotent before it.? So when evil is called good, and good evil, & the media keep us in darkness, that's a beautiful thing??? Reply

Tzipporah Machlah Sharon, MA March 4, 2010

That was not a good story at all!!!! I don't like the story, anonymous from Israel, because the black bird is also beautiful. The tzidikel ought to stand for the pleasures in life, and the black bird for those who stand alone. The real question here, however, is in reality: Which bird are we? Are we the tzidikel, so outraged by the others not thinking her beautiful that she had to prove herself- and failed? Or are we the black bird, who endured this abuse? Or could we be the pig, who recognized the tzidikel's beauty but saw through it, right into its shallow mind and self-absorbed soul. I also don't understand why we think ourselves better than other nations, since we are so obviously not. Look at Yonah, who was a jerk to all the nice people, who were not any of them Jewish. I'm not saying that we're all bad, either. But alot of what we've done to the Arabs is inexcusable and we have to accept that. "I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war"(Tehillim 120). Those words could be spoken as truthfully by Arabs. Reply

Sasha Australia March 22, 2009

Sadness I understood the meaning behind the story - so like the Sleeping Beauty Fairy Tale,
But the story made me sad for the forest is surely also depleted by the loss of the multicoloured tzidike bird/s will surely be a loss to the forest and that is sad.
And I have some sympathy for the comment somehow detracting from the story - one of the things I enjoy so much about these stories is their richness of meaning for differing contexts and to give a comment often seems to limit the meaning....to one context Reply

Kelly Rae Sydney, AU November 19, 2008

Nice Story This made a lot of sense to me. Thank you for this great story. I usually use your stories, adjust them just enough for a 3- and 4-year old to understand and tell them at nap time or in the car. My friend's children enjoy them as well and get the point. Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem, Israel July 8, 2008

I enjoyed this beautiful, well- written story and its message.
It was upsetting to see only a negative comment posted.
Thanks, Rabbi Freeman! Reply

Anonymous August 2, 2004

Re certain type stories A tale should be able to stand on its own. Without needing comment or explanation.

Reply