Ki Teitzei

Ki Teitzei – The Moral Lesson of ‘Sending Away the Mother Bird’

It is stated in the Torah reading: “If a bird's nest chances before you on the road, on any tree, or on the ground, and it contains fledglings or eggs, if the mother is sitting upon the fledglings or upon the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. You shall send away the mother, and then you may take the young for yourself, in order that it should be good for you, and you should lengthen your days.”
Although the commandment of sending the mother bird away seems strange, considering it carefully reveals a wonderful moral lesson. The holy Zohar already testified about this commandment that it contains immense secrets. Nevertheless, the literal level also has deep meanings.
A person who is walking and finds himself hungry, can eat any unowned kosher animal that he finds on the way for food. Why, then, when he notices a nest with a bird and fledglings, is he not allowed to take them, but must first send the mother away? In which way is the mother bird different from any other animal?
The Torah is teaching a person to beware of the quality of cruelty and develop sensitivity to what others are going through. A mother bird that is sitting on her eggs or her fledglings will stay with them even when a person approaches because of her concern for them. A person who hunts the mother bird when she is in this state, is exploiting the mother’s compassion and sense of responsibility for her offspring. This behavior will get him used to cruelty, which the Torah wants to prevent.
If the mother bird had only been concerned about herself, she would have escaped, but she won’t leave the nest despite her great trepidation because of her devotion to her offspring. A person is prohibited to exploit her tragic situation and take her, but must send her away.
The reason why he may not take the mother bird is not because of a concern about eating birds —  because it is an animal like all others which man is permitted to eat — but to educate a person not to be cruel.
This is why the Mishnah says on this commandment: “One who says ‘Your mercy has extended to the bird's nest’ … we silence him.” Why do we rebuke a person who says this? The Talmud explains: “Because he implies that G-d commanded this out of mercy, while it is instead one of His inscrutable decrees.” (Brachot 33). This means that G-d’s rational for this commandment wasn’t to show pity for the bird, because like all animals she is allowed to be eaten. Rather, it is to refine a person just as all the Torah’s commandments are intended to to build up a person’s inner spiritual world.
This principle can be learned out from an episode taught in the Book of Kings, when the king of Israel captured captives from the enemy, and asked the prophet Elisha whether to kill them. The verses relate: “Now the king of Israel said to Elisha when he saw them, ‘Shall I slay them, my lord?’ And he said, ‘You shall not slay. Do you slay those you have captured with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water for them and let them eat and drink and go to their masters.’               
And the king listened to his advice: “And he prepared for them a lavish feast, and they ate and drank, and he sent them away and they went to their masters.”
Why did he show mercy to the captives? Weren’t they his enemies? But in this case too the prophet was teaching the king not to accustom himself to acting cruelly. The prophet knew that these captives would not pose any danger to Israel, not in the present and not in the future. One who uselessly causes injury to a defenseless person who is at his mercy, is training himself to be wicked and cruel, while the Torah wants to teach a person to walk in G-d's good and righteous ways. May we merit to always take hold of these qualities.
Shabbat Shalom.

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