Ki Teitzei: Let the Mother Go

Protecting God’s Creatures

God gave the Jewish people 613 commandments, and over 70 of them appear in Torah portion, Ki Teitzei (“when you go.”) The laws delivered by Moses in Ki Teitzei cover a wide range of interpersonal situations, but only one law contains the explicit mention of a reward. The commandment to shoo away a mother bird before taking eggs or fledglings from her nest is followed by the promise of not one, but two rewards: “Let the mother go, and take only the young, in order that you may fare well and have a long life.” (Deut. 22:7)

This seemingly minor commandment is the easiest to perform but contains a vital lesson. The Rambam (Spain, 12th century) explains that we shoo away the mother bird to spare her the anguish of seeing her chicks taken away. If God commands us to be concerned with the feelings of a bird, how much more should we be concerned with the feelings of our fellow human beings!

And what about the unusually explicit promise of reward for doing the mitzvah? The Chizkuni (France, 13th century) explains it simply. “The reward matches the fulfillment of the commandment. By not killing both mother bird and all its young, thus not making that family extinct, you yourself will be rewarded with additional years of healthy life.” We have a responsibility to protect all of God’s creatures from extinction.

May we treat both humans and animals with respect, and be punctilious about sparing the feelings of others!

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