If you read this and say, "Who's Flaco?" you must not be a real New Yorker. All the NYC news outlets have reported extensively about Flaco's demise, and many New Yorkers mourned his death.

So, who was Flaco?

Flaco was an Eurasian eagle-owl who lived peacefully at Central Park's zoo. About 12 months ago, someone cut the protective netting above his enclosure and Flaco found his freedom, becoming an instant celebrity.

As AP reported: "In the year since his dramatic escape, Flaco has become one of the city's most beloved characters. By day, he lounges in Manhattan's courtyards and parks or perches on fire escapes. He spends his nights hooting atop water towers and preying on the city's abundant rats."

Then, last week, after a year of fame, fans, and fanfare, Flaco collided with a high-rise on the Upper West Side and died instantly.

To be honest, I also hadn’t heard about Flaco until this week (I admit, I am not a real New Yorker). But his story fascinates me.

Animals who grow up in captivity rarely adapt to life in the wild. They often lack the skills and know-how to survive outside a protective environment. In some ways, they are almost not the same animals anymore.

That was why many zoologists feared Flaco wouldn’t make it. He was born and raised in captivity. He couldn't fly for long distances or hunt for food, and his chances of survival were slim.

Yet, Flaco proved them all wrong. He showed that he was still an eagle-owl, after all. Years of captivity, years without using his natural skills and abilities, didn't stop him from being himself.

Flaco's story reminded me of the way Rabbi Adin Even Yisrael Steinzaltz described people who came to meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and how they would leave inspired and empowered, energized and focused on their divinely-gifted purpose in life.

“Imagine that you are an eagle,” he explained, “but you were raised as a duck. So you think you are a duck, you live like a duck, and you waddle around like a duck. Until, one day, someone lifts you up and you discover you're an eagle. You spread your wings; you soar up to heaven. That is the touch the Rebbe had.”


I love this idea so much because it changes everything. When we think of our journey as humans and realize that we need to strive higher and better, we often compare it to climbing a mountain.

But here, the Rebbe is telling us a different story. We might walk like a duck, but that’s not who we are. All we need is to spread our wings and be ourselves. Eagles don’t need to climb mountains to reach the peak; they are there already.

Incidentally (although nothing is really incidental!), this week we read the Torah portion of Shekalim, which begins with the words “Ki tissa,” “When you count …”

But ki tissa can also be translated as a request from G‑d to Moses to raise the people. It's a request that’s as relevant as ever: Rise higher! You are not a duck; you are an eagle!