Come Fly With Me
Rabbi Reuven Mann
It is no simple matter to evaluate the significance of any mitzvah. Our Sedra illustrates this point . In this week’s parsha, Ki Tetze, we encounter the commandment of the “Bird’s Nest.” This stipulates that if one comes upon a nest in which a mother is sitting upon her eggs or chicks, he may not take the offspring in the presence of the parent. Rather, “You shall surely send away the mother and take the young for yourself, so that it will be good for you, and you will lengthen your days.”
At first glance, this may not seem like the most earthshaking statute, but the Rabbis regard this verse as alluding to eternal life in Olam Habah (the World to Come). Why is this great reward offered for this seemingly simple mitzvah?
My interest in this matter increased a few weeks ago when I noticed that a dove had built a nest on a window ledge of my Jerusalem dirah (dwelling). It sat upon 2 eggs for some weeks before they hatched. Mommy was very dedicated to her task, sitting there day and night, except for short breaks in which she left to tend to her own needs, which clearly took a back seat to those of the offspring.
Mom’s dedication persisted with the advent of the chicks whom she nurtured until they reached the point where they could fly off and be on their own. I was fascinated by this whole process and found myself photographing the nest at various stages and sharing the photos with my students. I have given this matter some thought and believe that there are valuable lessons we can learn from a mother dove.
First and foremost is the absolutely steadfast dedication she displayed to her young. She was on the job 24/7, sitting first on the eggs and later on the chicks. At no point did she appear to be bored by or tired of what she was doing. She seemed totally content with her assignment and didn’t regard it as an infringement on her freedom to do as she pleased. All her time, energy, and focus was dedicated to her offspring’s wellbeing.
Fortunate is the creature who is absolutely committed to and joyful with the ability to do what they were created for.
This recounting of the bird’s excellent parenting skills and unwavering dedication may arouse pangs of envy or even guilt in some, but that is not my intention. Inevitably, observing birds will cause us to look within, make comparisons, and come up short. This can be a humbling and ego-deflating experience.
In defense of humans, certain things need to be placed in perspective. It’s patently unfair to judge our species by the behavior of animals. They, in general, lead uncomplicated lives. Birds have the luxury of being single-minded. They have no responsibilities aside from tending to their chicks. Mommy can contentedly nest on them endlessly with no distractions.
But humans are altogether different. We cannot be single-minded. We have many and diverse needs besides the care of offspring (and many wants and desires that clamor to be satisfied). We also have numerous responsibilities to which we must attend and which cannot be put aside.
We humans need to be jugglers to master the art of multitasking. The big challenge we face is to balance our obligations so they do not consume us, but leave us the time and energy to engage in “higher pursuits.”
We are also moody creatures who get bored, resentful, and need lots of breaks and diversions. It is inevitable that we will fail at times, have bad days, and make faulty decisions. Our matzav (situation) is more complicated than animals’ lives.
When it comes to a mother bird, she spends less and less time with the kiddies as they get bigger and stronger. She doesn’t stay with them more than she has to. She does not want to keep the chicks dependent on her. Her goal is to facilitate their maturation and ultimate independence. Human parents should note this. Do we overly coddle our young ones because we unconsciously seek to keep them dependent on us? That approach can be counterproductive.
The relationship between the mother bird and chicks is limited in time. Once the job is completed, she has no further role to play and retains no connection to her offspring. And she seems none the worse for it. She does not expect any gratitude for what she has done. Nor does she seek any “nachas” from the little ones. Her service is truly one of love. She is happy to do it and serves without expectation of any reward.
As we ponder the wonders of creation, we see that it is embedded with moral principles. Not only do the inanimate constellations of the stars perform the tasks assigned to them, but living creatures do so as well. In the blessing for the new moon, we depict the heavens as “joyous and glad to perform the will of their Owner—the Worker of truth Whose work is truth.”
Man is an exception to the rule of “joyous service” found in the universe. We are much more complicated creatures with minds of our own. Our challenge, in the words of Pirkei Avot, is to “cancel our will before His Will.”
When we observe the way a bird fulfills her responsibilities, it causes us to pause and and be in awe of the purity of her actions. This realization can lift us to a higher level of divine service. And perhaps this is an additional reason why the great reward of Olam Habah is alluded to here. May we merit to achieve it.
In this time of social isolation, we should seek ways to avoid boredom by staying occupied with meaningful activity. The world of virtual reality allows us to stay in touch with friends and attend all kinds of classes available online.
But that can only take you so far. Comes Shabbat and Yom Tov, and you need books, especially on the parsha. I personally recommend Eternally Yours on Genesis http://bit.ly/EY-Genesis and Exodus http://bit.ly/EY-Exodus, and my newest one on Numbers http://bit.ly/EY-Numbers2. They are easy to read, interesting, and thought-provoking conversation starters. I am especially interested in your feedback and hope you can write a brief review and post it on Amazon.