Shooing Away the Mother Bird

By Rabbi Steven Bayar

This week’s portion, Ki Tetze contains one of the most theologically important texts in the Torah:

“Should you come upon a nest of eggs with the mother bird hovering….shoo away the mother before taking the eggs…in order that you (be rewarded with) have long life.”

The only other commandment in the Torah which specifies a reward for its observance is “honor your mother and father in order that you enjoy long life.”

Why these two? Rabbinic literature gives a profound interpretation coupled with a profound observation.

First the interpretation: There are 613 commandments in the Torah; only two have specific rewards mentioned. You might consider one of them the least important and the other the most important. The Torah teaches that the reward is the same for the observance of all commandments — whether you think of them as lesser or greater, God does not.

The observation? The story is told of Elisha ben Abuyah who witnessed a father and son gathering eggs in the forest. The father instructed the son to climb a ladder to gather some eggs (thereby observing “honor your parents”). He did so by shooing away the mother bird (thereby observing that commandment). Unfortunately, the ladder broke and he fell, mortally wounded.

Ben Abuyah exclaimed, “There is no God if this can happen” and became an apostate. The rabbis observed that “observance of the Mitzvot does not protect one from using a defective ladder.”

Faith is vital, but faith does not guarantee protection.