"Sending Away the Mother-Bird" and Honoring Parents

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion

 


 

PARASHAT KI TETZE

SICHA OF HARAV YEHUDA AMITAL SHLIT"A

"Sending Away the Mother Bird" and Honoring Parents

Summarized by Asher Y. Altshul

 

"If, along the road, you chance upon a bird's nest ... and the mother sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother, with her young. Send away the mother, and take only the young, in order that you may fare well, and have a long life." (Devarim 22:6-7)

It is very unusual for the Torah to describe the reward for mitzvot. Chazal explain that if the Torah were to list rewards, then there would be potential for people to choose to fulfill only those mitzvot with a large reward.

Rashi cites the Gemara (Chullin 162b) which explains the reason for the mention of reward in the case of shiluach ha-ken (sending away the mother). The Torah is teaching us that if we are rewarded with a long and good life for fulfilling such an easy mitzva, then how much more so are we rewarded for fulfilling more demanding mitzvot!

The Torah describes the reward of long life for one other mitzva, namely, honoring one's parents. It is not a coincidence that these two mitzvot are the only ones with such a distinction. These two mitzvot have a similar quality: they both are fulfilled spontaneously and without preparation. Although fulfillment of these mitzvot lacks both preparation and concentration, their reward is still great.

This idea enables us to better understand our relationship with mitzvot in general.

Daily mitzvot such as tefillin, tzitzit, and prayer cannot be properly described as difficult. Perhaps for a beginner they could be described as such, but after a while these mitzvot mesh with one's day-to-day routine and lose most, if not all, of their difficulty. Nevertheless, their reward is great.

How, then, are we to understand the Mishna at the end of the fifth chapter of Avot: "Ben Hei-Hei said, Lefum tza'ara agra - the reward is proportionate to the effort (lit. pain)"? We can answer that all the preparation and sacrifice which lead up to one's achieving this level of observance can be seen as the "tza'ara," the pain or effort, thereby legitimizing the receiving of reward.

There exists another striking similarity between the mitzvot of shiluach ha-ken and honoring one's mother and father. Both mitzvot focus on the unique bond between parent and child. In fact, Rambam says (Hil. Shechita 13:7) that the mitzva of shiluach ha-ken applies only when the mother is engaged in motherly activities, namely, protecting her children. This unique bond is interestingly expressed in another halakha.

An early commentary (the Arukh, cited by Tosafot) explains that we learn the required number of shofar blasts on Rosh Ha-shana from the one hundred cries of Sisra's mother when she heard the news of her son's death. It seems strange that we learn this law from the mother of an evildoer and an enemy of Israel. However, it is not her background that the Arukh is interested in; rather, he is attempting to illustrate for us the nature of the shofar. Unlike prayer, where the words do not always reflect the feeling in one's heart as they should, the sounds of the shofar have the ability to express only the most truthful and authentic feelings. The Arukh believes that these feelings can be best compared to the purity of a mother's wailing over her lost child.

The sounds of the shofar should cry out for God's mercy. These cries for mercy must be pure and must proceed from the depths in one's heart.

As the Yamim Noraim draw near, it is important that we remember this message and attempt to achieve the purity of heart and authenticity of feeling that a mother feels for her child.

(Originally delivered at seuda shelishit, Shabbat Parashat Ki Tetze 5755 [1995].)

 

 


 

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