Shabbat-Table Talks: Perashat Ki Tese
By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <email@example.com>
Value: Sensitivity to all of Godís creations. In one way or another, we share this planet with other living things. Developing in our children sensitivity to the other living things that we encounter in our lives creates sensitivity to life in general. Taking the creatureís point of view is an exercise that will not only benefit the creatures but could also help form the very important virtues of compassion and sympathy, (if we make the connection).
Text: Deuteronomy 22:6-7
When you encounter the nest of a bird before you in the way, in any tree or on the ground, (whether) fledglings or eggs, with the mother crouching upon the fledglings or upon the eggs, you are not to take away the mother along with the children. Send-free, send-free the mother, but the children you may take for yourself, in order that it may go-well with you and you may prolong (your) days.
First, it must be clear that the Torah is talking about a situation where you want to take the eggs or the fledglings. In such a situation, you should not take the eggs or fledglings while the mother is present. Jewish thinkers and Torah commentators have discussed the reason for this law.
Rambam explains the law as the Torahís sensitivity to the pain of the bird. He writes that creatures experience great emotional pain upon seeing their young taken or slain. ďThere is no difference in this case between the pain of man and the pain of other living beingsÖ.Ē He continues:
The eggs over which the bird sits, and the young that are in need of their mother, are generally unfit for food, and when the mother is sent away she does not see the taking of her young ones and does not feel any pain. In most cases, however, this commandment will cause man to leave the whole nest untouched, because [the young or the eggs], which he is allowed to take, are, as a rule, unfit for food. If the Torah provides that such grief should not be caused to cattle or birds, how much more careful must we be that we should not cause grief to our fellowmen. (Moreh Nebuchim 3:48)
Ramban after asking certain questions on Rambamís explanation gives a slightly different one. Ramban explains the reason as an educational one. That we should not have cruelty in our hearts and that we should have compassion. (Ask your children if they can catch the difference between the Rambam and Rambanís explanation. The difference is that the Rambamís explanation shows a divine concern for the emotional pain and suffering of the bird. Rambanís explanation sees the misvah as a way of creating compassion in human beings.)
Why do you think that the Torah promises such a great reward (length of days) for such a simple misvah?
Answer: Developing sensitivity towards all of Godís creatures, great and small, could lead to a general compassion towards all living beings including fellow human beings (see the quote from Rambam above). A society imbued with great sensitivity towards one another will last, as will its members.† (Interestingly, the next verse in the Torah enjoins the need for safety concerns for one another.)
What would the Torah say about:
What about killing animals to eat them? Rav Abraham Yishaq Hakohen Kook was of the opinion that the many restrictions about the proper way to slaughter and prepare meat for consumption was a means of keeping the reverence for life in mind even as we prepare meat to be consumed. He believed that there would be a return to vegetarianism in the messianic period.
Would this reverence for all life preclude experimenting with animals? I think that this issue is complex. Of course, in situations that can lead to saving human lives it is clear that human life is more important than animal life. However, should experiments that require killing animals be allowed in an undergraduate lab? Should we test cosmetics by feeding pounds of make-up to monkeys?
The proper care of a pet could lead to a greater compassion and sensitivity to the needs of people. The pet owner learns how to see things from the petís perspective and how to care for another living being that cannot express his needs in words. Our tradition teaches that we must feed our animals before we eat. We can apply that idea to our pets. (Yet, Nazis compassionate to their pets were still able to murder innocents. The application from animals to humans should be made explicit.)
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