Judaism has a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, of passing down stories from one generation to the next. To carry on that tradition, Stories We Tell, from ReformJudaism.org, will share a new story with you every Thursday. Whether you listen while driving to work, preparing Shabbat dinner, or taking your kids to school, each episode will give you a new story to reflect on and discuss with the people in your life. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life.
Who determines who you are? Is it the environment in which you’re raised, or is it what’s been inside of you your whole life? This week, we hear a story from Rabbi Rachel Greengrass of Temple Beth Am (Pinecrest, FL) about an eagle who thought she was a chicken, which asks us to think to when we had to determine who we truly are.
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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome back to Stories We Tell, a podcast presented by ReformJudaism.org. Judaism has always had a deep and rich tradition of passing our stories down from one generation to the next. And each week, we share that tradition with you.
[Rabbi Rachel Greengrass] This week, you're going to hear a story from Rabbi Rachel Greengrass from temple Beth Am in Miami, Florida. Rabbi Greengrass is also the chair of the Union for Reform Judaism's resolutions committee and the vice president of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Miami. Rabbi Greengrass is going to share the story of "The Eagle Who Thought She Was a Chicken."
Eagles are majestic birds. They have huge wings spans and can see for miles and miles. They're beautiful to watch fly. It's their dignity and grace that led to our founding fathers making the bald eagle our national bird. This story is about one eagle.
See, there was a mother equal who was so proud of the two eggs that lay in her nest. Even before they hatched, she already loved them. When the egg on the right hatched and her first baby peeped its first peep, she quickly rushed off to bring this one food to eat. She never wanted him to suffer even for the briefest of moments.
Only moments after she flew off, the little egg on the left began to jump and to bump. And the left egg was hatching. The egg jumped again and began to roll out of the nest. It fell through the air. Perhaps this was the end.
But no, a farmer was driving back from town and happened to be driving right under the tree at the moment the egg fell out of the nest. It landed safely and softly in the hay in the back of the farmer's truck. And off it traveled, completely unaware of what was happening, all the way to the farm. This story is about that little egg on the left.
At the farm, the farmer asked his young son to help unload the bales of hay. The boy saw the egg, picked it up to examine it. He could feel it moving. He could hear pecking. He quickly brought it over to the chicken coop, hoping these birds would know what to do.
The egg hatched, and the bird that emerged was certainly the weirdest looking chicken the boy had ever seen. This chicken was the weirdest chicken the chickens had ever seen. No one knew what to do with this strange creature, so they raised the egg on the left just as any other chicken. And they named her Esty.
Esty did her best to fit in, which was hard as she didn't look like all her friends. She learned to peck the ground, to make quiet clucking sounds, to bob her head when she walked. But none of this came naturally to her. From time to time, she would look up and dream of flying, dream of adventure. But chickens don't fly. And the life of a chicken is very predictable.
One day, she heard a rooster crowing. And she thought, maybe I could do that, too. That seems special. And she opened her mouth to crow as loud as she could. And what came out was a deafening screech. Everyone ran from her. They were scared. Esty learned that the best way for her to fit in was to keep her head down, keep her feet on the ground, and keep her voice as small as possible.
Now, as Esty grew, so did her brother, the egg on the right. He learned from his mother how to fly, how to soar, how to distinguish things on the ground from miles up in the air. He soon learned to fly fast and gracefully and to be able to spot prey from tremendous distances. And what he loved most about being an eagle was exploring. And so he would often go out for hours at a time to take in the beauty of the world.
It was on a flight like this that he happened to look down and see the strangest thing. There on a small farm, he saw chickens eating grain. And amongst them, he thought he saw an eagle. He swooped down to get a better look. What kind of strangeness is this, he thought. That is surely an eagle, and yet she walks with her head down, never looking up. She eats grain. How disgusting!
Excuse me, he said to Esty, having no idea he was talking to his sister. What are you doing here? Esty in the smallest of voices said, I'm eating grain. I'm bobbing my head. I'm clucking to myself. What else would a chicken do?
A chicken, replied her brother in alarm. You're not a chicken. You're an eagle. You were meant to fly, to soar. This is fine for chickens, but you were not meant to eat grain from a farmer. You are supposed to hunt. You are not meant to speak softly and cluck. Your call is supposed to echo across the mountain tops. Can't you see who you are?
But she couldn't. She couldn't imagine she was as special as this stranger thinks she was. She ignored him, went back to her coop to be alone. The eagle flew home. And he told his mother of this eagle who seemed to think she was a chicken.
Esty fell asleep in the coop and had a dream. The words of this stranger must have made an impression because that night she dreamt that she was soaring through the sky, diving from great heights, and spreading her wings wide with her head held high. When she awoke in the morning, she tried to forget her dream. She went outside amongst all her fellow chickens, began to bob her head, and walk and eat grain from the ground.
And then she saw two large shadows. She looked up to find the stranger from yesterday with another beautiful bird. She didn't know she was looking at her mother. They came and landed beside her.
Please, leave me alone, asked Esty. Her mother studied her. Have you always been a chicken, she asked. Yes. Have you ever done anything out of the ordinary? Well-- Esty was embarrassed, but reluctantly, she admitted, my voice is very screechy. It's very embarrassing. And I'm too big. I feel out of place.
What if I told you that those parts of you that you find embarrassing are the most beautiful parts of you? They make you who you are. Oh. Well, I wouldn't believe you, Esty replied. Her mother said, if only you could see yourself through our eyes. You would see how special you are. Esty wasn't sure. I'm not special, not like you guys. I'm just a chicken. Please leave me alone.
We will if you just do this one thing with us. What is it? Fly. Esty was baffled. I can't fly. Chickens can't fly. And they replied, well, then you won't get off the ground, and we'll leave you alone. And so Esty agreed.
Spread your wings, they instructed her. And she spread her wings, and it felt so good, so natural. Stretch your neck, they said. And Esty raised her head and stood proudly. Look up. And she took her eyes off the ground and looked to the sky. Oh, she wanted more than anything to be up there.
Now, flap your wings. And she did. And Esty found her feet leaving the ground, found herself rising higher and higher. And she was scared, but she was also happy. Her dream was coming true.
She had never been a chicken. The chicken were wonderful, and she loved them dearly. But she had tried to change herself to fit in and had felt bad about who she was. But now as she soared higher and higher and looked down on the farm that was now a speck on the ground and saw beautiful flowers in the valley and snowy whiteness of mountain tops, now that she wasn't trying to deny any part of herself, she felt free. She felt whole. And for the first time, she felt like herself.
[URJ Outro] After hearing that beautiful story of "The Eagle Who Thought She Was a Chicken," how do you see yourself? Is it dependent on your environment, on what people tell you you can do, or maybe on what's always been inside you all along? We'd love to hear about that. Please feel free to share it with us on social media.
And thanks for listening to Stories We Tell. If you enjoyed this week's story, please subscribe and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can always find new episodes every Thursday on ReformJudaism.org. And don't forget to visit ReformJudaism.org to learn a little bit more about Jewish rituals, our culture, our holidays, and more. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life. And until next week, l'hitroat.