Parshas Ki Teitzei - Shiluach Hakan - Cruelty or Compassion?
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כִּ֣י יִקָּרֵ֣א קַן־צִפּ֣וֹר | לְפָנֶ֡יךָ בַּדֶּ֜רֶךְ בְּכָל־עֵ֣ץ | א֣וֹ עַל־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֶפְרֹחִים֙ א֣וֹ בֵיצִ֔ים וְהָאֵ֤ם רֹבֶ֨צֶת֙ עַל־הָֽאֶפְרֹחִ֔ים א֖וֹ עַל־הַבֵּיצִ֑ים לֹֽא־תִקַּ֥ח הָאֵ֖ם עַל־הַבָּנִֽים: שַׁלֵּ֤חַ תְּשַׁלַּח֙ אֶת־הָאֵ֔ם וְאֶת־הַבָּנִ֖ים תִּקַּח־לָ֑ךְ לְמַ֨עַן֙ יִ֣יטַב לָ֔ךְ וְהַֽאֲרַכְתָּ֖ יָמִֽים:
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 upon 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. (Devarim 22:6,7)
The Mishna in Berachos (33b) speaks of certain innovations in davening that warrant the silencing of a shliach tzibbur who attempts to introduce them in his teffilos, as their content tends toward heresy. One example cited is if the shliach tzibbur were to say על קן ציפור יגיעו רחמיך, Your mercy is extended to a bird’s nest, we silence him. The implication of the Teffilah is that just as God has commanded us to send away the mother before taking her chicks or eggs, so too extend Your mercy to us.
The Gemara inquires as to what exactly is the concern when it comes to this innovative teffilah and quotes a machlokes between Rav Yosi bar Avin and Rav Yosi bar Zevida. One of them argued that such a teffila will engender jealousy among God's creations since it will appear as if God favors birds over all the other creatures. The other argues that it is because it would seem as if we are taking Hashem's mitzvos and turning them into expressions of mercy when in truth they are nothing but decrees. It is our responsibility to fulfill the decrees of the King without positing the reasons behind them. In other words, in attempting to understand the reason for the Mitzvah of Shiluach HaKan, sending away the mother bird, we are in a sense limiting the Mitzvah to what we can understand with our limited human comprehension. While God is merciful, the Mitzvah of Shiluach HaKan, like every Mitzvah, is beyond our understanding.
Nevertheless we find that the commentators give many reasons are given for this Mitzvah. The Tosafos Yom Tov (Berachos 5:3) says the Gemara was only concerned with davening this type of teffila as it indicates that the sole reason for Shiluach HaKan is God's compassion.
The Rambam in his Guide for the Perplexed (3:48) writes that it is a machlokes as to whether a chok has a rationale and he follows the opinion that it does in fact have a rational basis. Regarding the Mitzvah of Shiluach HaKan he writes, "The eggs over which the bird sits, and the young that are in need of their mother, are generally unfit for food, and when the mother is sent away, she does not see the taking of her young ones and does not feel any pain. In most cases, however, this commandment will cause man to leave the nest intact because [the young or the eggs], which he is allowed to take, are, as a rule, unfit for food. If the Law provides that such grief should not be caused to cattle or birds, how much more careful must we be that we should not cause grief to our fellow men..."
The Ramban writes that the reasoning behind the Mitzvah is to instill in us compassion as the mother bird will experience anguish upon seeing her young chick being taken.
The Rabbeinu Bachya that taking the mother and her offspring at the same time is akin to destroying the entire species.
We find that the Mitzvah of Shiluach HaKan is a segula for many things. The passuk itself promises a long life for those who perform the Mitzvah. The Medrash (Devarim Rabbah 6:6) and the Sefer HaChinuch (545) derive from the words of the passul, Ve’es habanim tikach lach, you may take the young for yourself, that it is a segulah for having children. Since this parsha is followed by “Ki yivneh ish bayis” and “Ki yikach ish isha” the Medrash Tanchuma (Ki Setzei 1) says that shiluach hakan is also a segulah for getting married and acquiring a new house.
Why is there such incredible reward for what seems to be a regular Mitzvah?
Shiluach HaKan and Techiyas HaMeisim
To further underscore the power of this seemingly mundane Mitzvah consider this miraculous story as told over in the Zohar HaKadosh.*
Rabbi Elazar, the son of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, was walking with his colleagues when a dove appeared. The dove informed Rabbi Elazar that his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosi, had fallen seriously ill.
Rabbi Elazar ordered the dove to assure Rabbi Yosi that in three days he would miraculously recover, and Rabbi Elazar and his colleagues would then arrive at his home to celebrate.
Soon afterwards, the distressed dove returned to inform them that since Rabbi Elazar had annulled the heavenly decree hanging over his father-in-law, the angel of death had taken in his stead another Rabbi Yosi—Rabbi Yosi of Pekiyin.
Hearing this tragic news, Rabbi Elazar decided to travel to Pekiyin to comfort Rabbi Yosi's family and to personally take part in the burial of this great sage.
Upon their arrival, the rabbis were informed that Rabbi Yosi was survived by a young son and daughter. Rabbi Yosi's wife, the mother of these two young children, had died a short time before, and these youngsters were now doubly orphaned.
In the room where the departed lay, the son would not allow anyone near his father's body. He laid his head close to his father's and wept bitterly and uncontrollably. Looking heavenward, he declared:
"Master of the Universe, You wrote in your holy Torah these words:
"'If you chance upon a bird's nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs, and the mother is sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young. Let the mother go and take only the young...'
"Master of the Universe! According to your holy Torah, we must let the mother live, and surely we must not take the mother and leave the children unattended.
"You, G‑d, must fulfill the words of Your holy Torah. My sister and I are two little birds. My mother has died, and so our father has taken her place to care for us.
"According to Your Torah, dear G‑d, You may take either me or my sister, but You may not take away my beloved father!"
Hearing the poignant plea of this innocent child, Rabbi Elazar's colleagues began to weep.
Suddenly, the room became silent, as a pillar of fire appeared, hovering over the bed of the departed. Everyone in the room ran out, and Rabbi Elazar's frightened colleagues wanted to do the same.
Rabbi Elazar calmed them, saying, "A great miracle is about to occur."
Out of the fiery pillar, a heavenly voice sounded: "Fortunate are you, Rabbi Yosi, to merit such a wise son, whose justified complaints split the gates of heaven, ascending before G‑d's Throne of Glory.
"A new verdict has been passed. You, Rabbi Yosi, will live twenty-two more years, in order to have the privilege of teaching this wise child."
Then, as suddenly as it had descended, the pillar disappeared; Rabbi Yosi's eyes fluttered open.
Rabbi Elazar exclaimed to his friends, "How fortunate are we to have witnessed with our own eyes the miracle of the dead coming to life!"
Rabbi Elazar then blessed Rabbi Yosi, "How fortunate are you to have experienced the miracle of the resurrection of the dead because of the wisdom of your young son!"
Meanwhile, the young child had fainted from the overwhelming events. When he awoke, it was impossible for him to fully express his elation, as he smothered his father with hugs and kisses.
Rabbi Elazar remained for three days to celebrate. During this time, he asked Rabbi Yosi to describe what he had observed in the heavens.
Rabbi Yosi replied, "I may not disclose to human ears what I have seen. I can only reveal that when my son was pleading, weeping, and protesting to G‑d from the depths of his being with utter sincerity, and he referred to the mitzvah of sending the mother bird away, three-hundred thousand heavenly chairs shook, as three-hundred thousand tzaddikim (righteous individuals) stood up in the heavens, begging G‑d to return me to the living!"
Thus far we have seen that Shiluach HaKan is a segula for a long life, having children, aquiring a house, finding a spouse and even revival of the dead. What is the secret behind this Mitzvah that it contains such awesome powers?
Shiluach HaKan - An "Easy" Mitzvah
The Mishnah (Chullin 12:5) explains that the Torah stresses the reward for shiluach hakan to teach us that if one receives such a great reward for a relatively easy and inexpensive mitzvah, how much more so, for more difficult ones.
Still, we must ask ourselves, why is it that it is specifically the Mitzvah of shiluach hakan that Hashem uses to impart this lesson? Couldn't it have been any of the "easier" Mitzvos that taught us the amazing schar we receive for the performance of our Mitzvos?
Kibbud Av V'Eim and Shiluach HaKan
As we noted above, among the many rewards given for performing the Mitzvah of shiluach hakan is the reward for a long life. There are only two Mitzvos in the Torah for which we are rewarded with a long life, the other being Kibbud Av V'Eim.
What is the connection between these two Mitzvos?
Elisha ben Avuyah and Shiluach HaKan
The Gemara in Kiddushin (39b) tells the story that the Tanna, Elisha ben Avuyah, who once witnessed a father asking his son to retrieve young birds from a bird’s nest at the top of a building. Fulfilling the Mitzvah of the Torah the young boy sent the mother bird away and only then removed he eggs. As the boy descended from the ladder, he fell and died. Elisha ben Avuyah could not understand how the Torah could promise the reward for a long life and yet in performing this exact Mitzvah he plummeted to his death. This is one of the events that caused Elisha ben Avuyah to become a heretic.
The Gemara in Chullin (142a) tells us that after he went off the derech, Elisha’s daughters were cared for by the community. His grandson, Rav Yaakov, became a renowned Talmid Chacham and he too saw a similar event. However, he had a quite different response. He said: “Where is this person’s length of days, and where is the good promised him? In the World to Come . . .” He interpreted tragedy in this world as signifying an emphasis on the importance of belief in the world to come and the revival of the dead. There we receive the reward for our service of G‑d, not in this world. The Gemara suggests that had he known of his grandson’s (Rav Yaakov’s) teaching that the promise of bliss and long life is to be fulfilled only in the world to come, and one must not expect to receive the reward for a good deed in this world, then Elisha would not have come to doubt the truth of the Torah and would not have become a disbeliever.
Elisha Ben Avuyah was no simple man. Of course it is disconcerting to witness such tragedies but why was this such a tragedy that he became a heretic? The question as to why bad things happen to good people is certainly not a new one?
Yaakov Avniu and the Teffila of Shiluach HaKan
Lastly, there is a very interesting connection between Yaakov Avinu and the Mitzvah of Shiluach HaKan.
When Yaakov Avinu is davening to Hashem to save him from his brother Eisav he says:
הַצִּילֵ֥נִי נָ֛א מִיַּ֥ד אָחִ֖י מִיַּ֣ד עֵשָׂ֑ו כִּֽי־יָרֵ֤א אָֽנֹכִי֙ אֹת֔וֹ פֶּן־יָב֣וֹא וְהִכַּ֔נִי אֵ֖ם עַל־בָּנִֽים: וְאַתָּ֣ה אָמַ֔רְתָּ הֵיטֵ֥ב אֵיטִ֖יב עִמָּ֑ךְ וְשַׂמְתִּ֤י אֶת־זַרְעֲךָ֙ כְּח֣וֹל הַיָּ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יִסָּפֵ֖ר מֵרֹֽב:
Now deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him, lest he come and strike me, [and strike] a mother with children. And You said, 'I will surely do good with you, and I will make your seed [as numerous] as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted because of multitude.'" (Bereishis 32:12,13)
The language of the passuk is strikingly similar to the passuk by Shiluach HaKan.
The only two places in the Torah where we find the phrase אֵ֖ם עַל־הַבָּנִֽים is by Shiluach HaKan and by Yaakpv Avinu's teffila.
By shiluach hakan the passuk says, לְמַ֨עַן֙ יִ֣יטַב לָ֔ךְ, it should be good for you. By Yaakov Avinu's teffila the passuk says, הֵיטֵ֥ב אֵיטִ֖יב עִמָּ֑ךְ, I will surely do good with you.
Why do we find echoes of Shiluach HaKan in Yaakov Avinu's teffila? Why now?
The Inner Meaning Behind Shiluach HaKan
The Zohar (Zohar Chadash Rus pg. 94, Tikunei Zohar 6, pg. 23a) goes in the exact opposite direction of all the previous commentators. While they explain Shiluach HaKan to be a Mitzvah of compassion the Zohar says that it is precisely the lack of compassion that makes it such a powerful Mitzvah.
"There is an angel appointed over the birds . . . and when Israel performs this commandment, and the mother departs weeping and her children crying, he agonizes for his birds, and asks G‑d: “Does it not say that ‘His compassion is on all of His works’? Why did You decree on that bird to be exiled from her nest?” And what does the Holy One do? He gathers all of His other angels and says to them: “This angel is concerned for the welfare of a bird and is complaining of its suffering; is there none amongst you who will seek merit on My children Israel, and for the Shechinah which is in exile, and whose nest in Jerusalem has been destroyed, and whose children are in exile under the hand of harsh masters? Is there no one who seeks compassion for them and will attribute merit to them?” Then the Holy One issues a command and says, “For My sake I shall act, and I shall act for My sake,” and compassion is thereby aroused upon the Shechinah and the children in exile."
With this in mind we can understand why the Mitzvah of Shiluach HaKan is worthy of such great rewards. Since the mother bird arouses God's compassion, and He showers His mercy on Klal Yisroel and individuals in need, in turn, Hashem then rewards the person who brought this about.
And what is the nature of God's compassion?
The Medrash in Devarim Rabbah 6:7 says
”מהו שלח תשלח את האם, אם קיימת מצוה זו את ממהר לבוא מלך המשיח שכתוב בו שילוח, מנין שנאמר )ישעיה לב-כ( משלחי רגל השור והחמור. אמר רבי תנחומא, אם קיימת המצוה הזאת, אתה ממהר את אליהו הנביא ז“ל שיבוא שכתוב בו שילוח, שנאמר )מלאכי ג-כג( הנה אנכי שולח לכם את אליהו הנביא, והוא יבוא
וינחם אתכם, מנין שנאמר )שם( והשיב לב אבות על בנים“.
The Medrash is pointing out that when it comes to Mashiach and Eliyahu HaNavi the passuk uses a lashon of sending as it does by the Motzvah of shiluach hakan. Through the Mitzvah of shiluach hakan we arise God's compassion and we will bring about the ultimate redemption.
The Zohar (Shemos 7b) teaches that Kan Tzipor, the bird’s nest, represents the sanctuary of Melech HaMashiach. When the time comes for him to redeem Yisrael, Mashiach will emerge from that sanctuary. “At that time, he will be aroused to emerge from Gan Eden, from the place known as ‘Kan Tzipor’; he will awaken and will appear in the region of the Galil.”
The Shvielie Pinchas points out that Kan Tzippor is roshei teivos of ketz, a reference to the end of days when we will finally be redeemed from this long and bitter exile.
By now it is clear to us as to why shiluach hakan is such a powerful Mitzvah that brings with it such incredible reward. It is through the Mitzvah of Shiluach Hakan that we bring Mashiach.
Kibbud Av V'Eim vs Shiluach HaKan - Eisav vs Yaakov
Knowing that Shiluach HaKan is a Mitzvah that brings redemption we are now prepared to understand the teffila of Yaakov Avinu.
Why was Yaakov so afraid of Eisav? Hashem had already performed miracles for Yaakov in the house of Lavan. Would God bring him this far only to be killed by Eisav?
Yaakov was concerned because Eisav had one merit on his side but it was a powerful one. As we all know, Eisav excelled in the Mitzvah of Kibbud Av V'Eim. The Medrash in Bereishis Rabba (65:16) quotes Rav Shimon ben Gamliel as saying that although he himself devotedly tended to his father, he did so in his ordinary clothing, whereas when he left the house, he made a point of wearing clean clothes. Esav, by contrast, tended to his father on a higher standard, as he always ensured to wear dignified clothing when he served his father, feeling that it would be inappropriate to come before his father appearing unkempt.
And why is Kibbud Av V'Eim such a powerful Mitzvah? As we mentioned above, it is the only other Mitzvah in the Torah for which we are promised a long life.
The child-parent relationship is analogous to our relationship with God. Our parents brought us into the world as partners with God. They provided the material substance and God endowed us with a soul. (Kiddushin 30b; Nidah 31a). The Mechilta (Shemos 20:12) and the Sifra (Vayikra 19:3) says that when we honor our parents we are honoring God Himself.
Eisav wanted to murder Yaakov Avinu immediately after he received the brachos from Yitzchak. He refrained for only one reason. "The days of mourning for my father will approach, and [afterwards] I will kill my brother Yaakov." (Bereishis 27:41)
The tremendous respect that Eisav had for his father outweighed his desire to kill his brother.
This was the true reason why Yaakov Avinu was concerned for his encounter with Eisav. Yaakov understood the reward for a long life that comes with the Mitzvah of Kibbud Av V'Eim. He understood that that alone may give Eisav the upper hand in any battle.
So Yaakov invoked the other Mitzvah that brings about a long life, Shiluach HaKan. By referencing Shiluach HaKan in his teffilah to Hashem, Yaakov Avinu brings about a redemptive experience. As the Zohar said, when Hashem considers the pain of the mother bird it arouses his compassion and he has mercy on the children. Yaakov Avinu is beseeching Hashem that while he does not have the powerful merit of Kibbud Av V'Eim on his side in the same way that Eisav does he too is the child of Hashem and he is in need of God's mercy. There is no greater Mitzvah in the Torah than Shiluach HaKan that best represents this idea.
Without Redemption What Is The Point?
With this is mind we can now explain why Elisha Ben Avuyah was so thrown when he saw a child die while fulfilling the Mitzvos of Kibbud Av V'Eim and Shiluach HaKan.
As we saw in the Zohar above, God relates us to as His children. Ultimately, when we fulfill the Mitzvah of Shiluach HaKan and we merit to see the redemption it is because God sees us as His children. Thus the two Mitzvos of Kibbud Av V'Eim and Shiluach HaKan are inherently connected.
When Elisha saw the child die it brought down his entire belief system. Elisha understood the greatness of these Mitzvos. They are the Mitzvos that bring Mashiach. Without redemption there is no Judaism. The whole point of Judaism is to rectify the world and bring it to a state of redemption. If there will be no redemption then Judaism is an exercise in futility.
Where was Elisha's mistake? He did not understand that which his own grandson ultimately explained. Ultimately, when the Torah speaks of a long life it meant in the period of redemption. It is true that the Mitzvah has a redemptive quality even in this world but its full impact will be seen only once the world is redeemed.
Shiluach HaKan and Succos
The Tikkunei Zohar (23a) says that the Mitzvah of Shiluach HaKan is connected to the Yom Tov of Succos. The birds nest in the passuk is a reference to the Succah. "In any tree" is a reference to the daled minim as it says in the passuk, "And you shall take on the first day, the fruit of a citrus tree, branches of palm trees..." ( Vayikra 23:40) "Chicks" are the seven days of of Sukkos and "eggs" are the seven hakafos we make when we recite Hoshanos.
What is the inner connection between Shiluach HaKan and Succos?
Succos is the Yom Tov of redemption.
On the Shabbos of Succos we read the Haftorah from Yechezkel which describes the war of Gog and Magog that will precede the Final Redemption. In fact, our tradition is that this war will take place in Tishrei, the month in which Succos falls out. This war is identical to the one described in Zechariah, the haftorah read on the first day of Succos, which concludes by saying that the gentile survivors of this war will be required to go to Jerusalem every year on the holiday of Sukkot to pay homage to G‑d.
On Succos in benching we say הרחמן הוא יקים לנו את סוכת דוד הנופלת. This is a reference to the passuk in Amos (9:11) that states, ביום ההוא אקים את סוכת דויד הנופלת at that time, I shall erect the fallen succah of Dovid.”
Succos is the time when we experience the redemption and rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash. The Succah in its own way represents the rebuilt Beis HaMikdash (see Tzidkas HaTzaddik 176). It is therefore fitting that it connected to the Mitzvah of Shiluach HaKan which is the Mitzvah that brings redemption.
Rav Pinchas Koretzer points out that Dovid HaMelech composed 150 chapters of Tehillim. This is the same gematria as kan, the nest of the mother bird.
It is also fitting that Succos is the Yom Tov that is kineged Yaakov Avinu as the Tur (Orach Chaim 417) writes in the name of his brother Rabbi Yehudah that the three festivals Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot correspond to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. As we mentioned above it is Yaakov Avinu that davens the teffila that echos Shiluach HaKan.
After Elul, Rosh Hashana, Aseres Yemei Tesshuva and Yom Kippur we are once again taken into the warm embrace of the Succah. God's compassion arises as he sees as our pain and He envelops us in His nest. As we approach Hashem in the field this Elul we would do well to remember the lesson of the Mitzvah of Shiluach HaKan as we cry out to Hashem to remember us as His fledglings that are in need of his compassion.
*As seen on Chabad.org