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What do the commandments of sending the mother bird away and honoring one’s parents have in common? The answer is quite enlightening!

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, United with Israel Rabbinic Director and Rabbi Yehoshua Schecter of Modiin.

This week’s Torah portion is “Ki Teitzei” (Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19) and as you’re about to discover, it is a Torah portion, well, that’s for the birds.

Everyone, but everyone, knows the Ten Commandments–even those with the mental disorder known as “atheism” know the Ten Commandments!

There is one commandment that applies every day of our lives, but is very difficult to properly perform: honoring our parents.

Honoring our parents forces us to show appreciation and gratitud, which unfortunately goes against the grain of human nature. It’s not easy and it doesn’t come naturally. This is why honoring one’s parents is considered to be one of the hardest mitzvahs to perform.

And what’s the reason that God wants us to honor our parents?

Many people mistakenly believe that that the commandment to honor our parents is some kind of payback for the many diapers that they changed or for the college tuition that they spent on us, not to mention providing for all our needs in between.

But that can’t be correct because the mitzvah of honoring parents was given to the Jews when they were in the desert and GOD was providing the people with all their needs! Food, clothes, air conditioning, everything…all provided by God for everyone. So it’s clear that it’s not a “payback” type of mitzvah.

So what’s behind the mitzvah of honoring parents? Say our sages: we honor parents, simply because they gave us the gift of life.

Back to this week’s Torah portion and those birds. In this week’s Torah portion, we read about the mitzvah known as “Shiluach Hakein” – the mitzvah to send away the mother bird before taking her eggs.

The commentators explain something similar here too. The mitzvah of sending away the mother bird before taking her eggs is not meant to be some kind of declaration that God is merciful to animals, but rather, it is meant to teach us to be more compassionate people.

It is easy to be compassionate, and hence, this mitzvah is relatively easy to fulfill. Compassion is a trait that comes naturally to a person. Indeed, one who is not compassionate is not acting in a normal human manner. That is why this mitzvah is considered an easy one to perform.

The sages teach that the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents and the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird are very much connected. Both mitzvahs are accompanied with the promise that “it will be good for you” and “your life will be lengthened.” These are the only mitzvahs in the Torah where such promises are listed! Why is this?

These two mitzvahs force us to demonstrate compassion (sending away the bird) and to show appreciation (to out parents). It is taught that God considered these two traits as primary, and even the reason for which He created the world!

So let us take the lessons of these two commandments, compassion and gratitude, and apply it to everyone and everything that we encounter each day. Doing so will ensure that not only are we contributing to the “raison d’etre” that God created the world, and not only will it give us a crack at long life, but maybe, just maybe, we’ll even be considered a partner with God in the creation of the world!

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below: