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YIP Parsha Project Parshat Ki Seitzei

09/03/2014 11:00:53 AM


YIP Parsha Project

Ki Seitzei                                                                       Daniel Hill

Parshas Ki Seitzei discusses the mitzvah of Shiluach HaKen - sending away the mother bird. The Torah states (Deut. 22:7) that on chancing upon a bird's nest on the way, "you should send the mother bird away and take the young for yourself - in order that it will be good for you and that you will have a long life."

This reward of a long life is found in the Torah regarding one other Mitzvah, namely, honoring one's parents (Exodus 20:12). Why do these specific commandments share a common reward?

Furthermore, the Gemara in Maseches Brachos (33b) instructs us to silence a person who, in his prayers, requests, "Just as Your mercy, God, has reached the bird's nest, so may it reach us as well," as this is considered an improper way to pray. Later on the same daf, the Gemara asks why this is so. The Gemara answers that this type of prayer wrongly refers to Hashem’s commandment as merciful, when in fact it is simply a decree.

 Why is this mitzvah regarded as merely a decree from Hashem, as opposed to a merciful instruction? Is it not obvious our actions have a merciful consequence by sending the mother bird away prior to taking her young?

The Vilna Gaon explains that a person's completeness in serving Hashem is established only when he masters two diametrically opposed character traits, for instance the antithetical attributes of compassion and harshness. If a person possesses only one of the traits, compassion in this case, it does not necessarily determine his righteousness - because the individual may simply be naturally kind and need not have worked on managing the emotion and directing it appropriately. If, however, he possesses both opposing traits and utilizes these conflicting emotions correctly, it proves that he has worked on managing his emotions, and for this he is considered a righteous person.

There are two mitzvos that symbolically represent these opposing traits: (1) honoring one's parents and (2) sending away the mother bird. The former characterizes the quality of compassion: Tending to one's parents, particularly as they become older, demands much compassion and concern from the caregiver. The latter mitzvah of Shiluach HaKen represents the attribute of harshness, as sending away the mother bird will cause her much distress as she is parted from her young.

Based on this, we can understand why these mitzvos share the identical reward of longevity. The Vilna Gaon explains that longevity symbolically represents completion, as a long life is often associated with a full life. Thus through these mitzvos a person can reach completeness as he learns to control and use these opposing emotions. A reward of longevity is therefore highly fitting and appropriate.

It seems that performance of only one of these commandments is insufficient to deserve the promised reward. Only by doing both does a person become "complete," as he has demonstrated mastery over contradictory emotions in order to serve Hashem.

The juxtaposition of two specific verses in Tehillim highlights this further. Psalms 149:7 speaks of taking revenge on nations committed to our annihilation, and two verses later it talks of God's "splendor to all His pious ones." The Vilna Gaon explains that this Psalm teaches us that although naturally pious people are kind and compassionate, they nevertheless know to take action and act harshly when the situation and circumstances are appropriate.

It is now obvious why the Talmud considers it improper if a person calls on God to show him mercy the way God displays mercy to the mother bird: A prayer of this nature is suggesting that this mitzvah represents a compassionate and merciful act when, really it is exactly the opposite. Shiluach HaKen is a harsh act and God instructs us to perform this mitzvah in order to teach us the lesson that our actions should all be for the sake of Heaven and not just because we are compelled by our instincts. Nevertheless, compassion and harshness have their place in the service of God and we are expected to work on these emotions appropriately.

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