For The Mother Birds: Ki Tetze 2017

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: In light of the horrific damage caused by Hurricane Harvey, some of the national conversation has centered on the way we show kindness. Are recent acts of rescue and heroism in Texas and Louisiana the best illustration of the American character? Or are they exceptional, a sign that we sometimes act our best only in dire circumstances?

This week’s Torah portion speaks at great length about how we show kindness, even in very specific situations:

The Pitch: “If, along the road, you chance upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs and the mother 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, in order that you may fare well and have a long life.” – Deuteronomy 22:6-7

Swing #1: “This is the moral lesson taught us by the observance of the commandment to send away the mother bird before taking the young from their nest. You may have captive in your hands the large mother bird and could use her for food or other personal gain. But the law of the Torah commands you to consider the welfare of others and send her away so that she should be able to produce more young and the species should not become extinct. Thus, the observance of this commandment teaches man to fight his egotism for the sake of the common good, and it is for this reason that the reward for its fulfillment is so great.” – Avnei Ezel

Swing #2: “Why specifically is the commandment of letting the mother bird go free called an ‘easy’ commandment [by Rashi]? Because of the fulfillment of this commandment requires no preparation. [In order to fulfill it first you must accidentally find a mother bird sitting on a nest.] And this is a law that excludes the possibility of preparation.” – Abraham Mordechai of Ger

Swing #3: “This commandment is a model not only of kindness toward animals but also of how we should treat each other. For if we learn to extend mercy toward God’s creatures, we will thereby prepare ourselves for even greater acts of loving kindness. And the reward for sending away the mother bird – ‘length of days’ – is precisely the same reward promised for honoring one’s parents.” – Ellen Frankel, The Five Books of Miriam

Late-Inning Questions: Do you agree that shooing away the mother bird is an “easy” commandment? Or is it much deeper than that – is it a commandment that reveals our ethical makeup, testing how we act in an unplanned moment? What can this kind of test tell us about how we act in response to a natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We have so much coming up at Emanu-El: Shababa, Emanu-El University, and the High Holy Days, to name just a few things. All are worth our exploration and involvement. But for now, please team up with us, Charleston Jewish Federation and Jewish Family Services, the Community Resource Center, the Summerville/North Area Jewish Community and the The National Action Network to collect relief items for the victims of Hurricane Harvey. We are primarily looking for NEW toiletry items, personal hygiene items, socks, underwear, blankets, and baby food and diapers. National Action Network will be sending at least three truckloads of these items to Texas within 2 weeks. Drop-offs will be accepted at Emanu-El, and numerous other places in the Jewish community, through Monday, September 11th.

The Big Inning at the End: I’m a big believer in baseball as a vehicle for community healing and togetherness. So I’m rooting for the Houston Astros to win the American League pennant. And if the Cubs aren’t their World Series opponent, I hope the Astros win it all.

Shabbat Shalom!