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LONG LIFE

by Moshe Freundlich    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Surveying the 613 mitzvot in the Torah, one notices that the only two whose specific reward is spelled out are the commandments to honor one's parents and shiluach hakan, to send away the mother bird before taking her eggs or young (mentioned in this week's portion).

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Surveying the 613 mitzvot in the Torah, one notices that the only two whose specific reward is spelled out are the commandments to honor one's parents and shiluach hakan, to send away the mother bird before taking her eggs or young (mentioned in this week's portion). The Torah says that by properly performing these mitzvot, we will be blessed with much good and long years (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 22:7).

The Talmud (Tractate Kiddushin 39b) sheds light on this reward with the following story: A father and son were walking together when the father spotted a bird's nest. The father asked the son to ascend a ladder, send away the mother bird, and bring down the nest. As the son was coming down after completing the task, he fell off the ladder and died. The Talmud points out the oddity that the son, who was simultaneously fulfilling both the mitzvah of honoring one's father and sending away the mother bird, received neither goodness nor long life, the specified reward for both of these mitzvot. Therefore, the sages explain that the blessings of long life and goodness mainly refer to what one earns for the World to Come.

Rabbi Elazar of Worms, in his 13th century classic Sefer Rokeach, amazingly notes that the numerical value of the words "v'ha'arachta yamim - your days will be long" (Deuteronomy 22:7) used in this week's portion to describe the reward for sending away the mother bird, is the same numerical value as "yom shekulo aruch," a term used in regard to the next world. Nevertheless, one may wonder what the underlying reason is for this seemingly simple mitzvah of sending away the mother bird, and why of all mitzvot the Torah specifies its reward.

On a very basic level, the Rambam (Maimonides) in his "Guide to the Perplexed" (chapter 48) explains this mitzvah as a vehicle to cultivate within ourselves sensitivity to all forms of life. Regardless of the animal's intellect, G-d instilled in every creature an instinct to love and care for its offspring. Therefore, G-d commanded us to act with kindness to the bird and spare it the pain of seeing its child being taken.

Rabbeinu Bachya, author of a classic 14th century commentary on the Torah, notes that even though Hashem allows us to slaughter animals and use them for our needs, He does not allow us to destroy a species to the point of extinction. Hence, when one sends away the mother bird one demonstrates his responsibility to preserve the species. The Midrash notes the peculiar way the Torah states the mitzvah: "If a bird's nest happens to be before you on the road. . .you shall surely send away the mother and take the young for yourself. . ." (Deuteronomy 22:6-7). It would have been sufficient to simply say "send away the mother," why must the verse then continue "and take the young for yourself"? The Midrash teaches that the redundancy alludes to the blessing of children one will receive for performing this mitzvah. Perhaps the Torah rewards one with children, the ultimate means of perpetuating oneself, for being sensitive to the need to perpetuate other species.

On a deeper level, Rabbeinu Bachya kabbistically explains that the mother experiences great pain when she is sent away from her chicks. Somehow this evokes a heavenly response of mercy consistent with the verse: "Hashem has mercy on all His creations" (Psalms 145:9). This surge of heavenly mercy becomes a reality that influences G-d's relationship with Man. As a result, the one who sends away the mother is greatly blessed because he triggered the event which caused G-d to show an extra measure of mercy to Man.

It seems obvious from here why the Torah identifies the reward specifically for this mitzvah of sending away the mother bird. The Torah is telling us that if one receives a blessing for performing a mitzvah that costs absolutely nothing, how much more so will he be rewarded for a mitzvah performed where a cost to him is involved. Hashem's mitzvot are filled with much wisdom on many different levels. Let us recognize the responsibility incumbent on us to study the Torah with an awareness that as much as one has learned, there is still a layer of understanding in each mitzvah waiting to be explored.

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Moshe Freundlich, who hails from Atlanta, is studying at the Yeshiva Beis Moshe in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

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