This week’s Torah portion is “Ki Teitzei” (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19). Among the many different mitzvot discussed in Ki Teitzei is the lesser-known mitzva of “Shilu’ach Ha’ken” – sending away the mother bird. The mitzva of Shilu’ach Ha’ken goes something like this: If one happens upon a bird’s nest while the mother bird is roosting her eggs or chicks, one is required to shoo away the mother bird before one may take the eggs or chicks for oneself. What is even more interesting is that although the Torah rarely cites a particular reward for the performance of a mitzva, in this case the Torah says that those who perform the mitzvah of Shilu’ach Ha’ken will be rewarded with a long life. (Check it all out: Deuteronomy 22:6-7).
There is only one other place in the Torah where we are told that we will be blessed with long life for the performance of a mitzva, and that is, for the mitzva of honoring one’s parents. There must certainly be some kind of connection between the mitzvot of Shilu’ach Ha’ken and honoring one’s parents if these are the only two mitzvot where the Torah cites that the reward is long life! Indeed, there are many different interpretations on the connection between these two mitzvot.
One such interpretation teaches that the common denominator between Shilu’ach Ha’ken and honoring one’s parents is that both mitzvot contain an element of selflessness and self-sacrifice. One of the reasons that children must honor their parents is in appreciation for all the self-sacrifice that parents show to their children and for providing them with all their needs. By honoring one’s parents –especially publicly– people see that one has an appreciation for all that one’s parents have done to get you where you are today. This appreciation is contagious! It might very well cause others to honor their parents, as well. As such, it is taught that the reward of a long life is due to the influence that one has on others, so that others be inspired to honor their parents, as well.
The same idea can be found by Shilu’ach Ha’ken, as well. It is virtually impossible to catch a bird. (ever try running after the ducks in the park?). There is generally only one chance that a person has a chance to catch a bird, and that is, when it is a mother roosting on her eggs. A mother roosting on her eggs is not the duck or pigeon that is running away from strangers. A mother bird stays with her eggs and chicks through thick and thin, no matter what comes her way. A mother bird is willing to sacrifice herself for her young. By taking the eggs or chicks while the mother is watching would be cruel – it would be a violation and desecration of the self-sacrifice that a mother has for her chicks. By first sending away the mother bird on the other hand, one demonstrates respect and esteem for her motherly instincts and concern. So here too, by displaying concern for the way the world should function, for showing sensitivity for the “mother bird-young” relationship, and by extension, the parent-child relationship, one sanctifies life.
It is for this reason that a person deserves the reward of long life. By sanctifying life – one deserves life. So here’s the “take home” message: Sanctify life. Treat every human being – especially parents – with kindness, dignity, and appreciation. So too, show sensitivity to animals, nature, and everything that lives in the kingdom of God. Sanctify life, and you’ll be blessed with life.
Shabbat Shalom from Israel!
Rabbi Ari Enkin