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Mother and Nest

Mother and Nest

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If you chance upon a bird's nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs, and the mother is sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young. Let the mother go and take only the young... (Deuteronomy 22:6)

Nachmanides writes that, on the most basic level, the reason for this mitzvah is to teach us compassion.

Taking the child within the sight of the mother would cause the mother acute pain. A mother's love and compassion for her offspring is, in Maimonides' words, "not a function of the intellect or speech, but a function of the thought process that exists in animals as well as in people."

By performing this mitzvah, we are training ourselves to feel empathy for all G‑d's creations.

According to the Zohar, this commandment also has a profound cosmic impact by arousing heavenly mercy for the Jewish people.

When the mother bird is driven from her nest, she cries bitterly and despairingly over her separation from her young.

The angel appointed over this species appears before the heavenly throne and complains: "Merciful One, why has Your Torah ordered such a callous act?"

The angels designated over the other bird species take up the protest, objecting to their birds meeting the same fate.

G‑d then reprimands all the heavenly hosts: "The angels in charge of the birds complain against the birds' plight. But why has none of you expressed concern over the anguish of My sons and the Shechinah (Divine Presence)?

"The Shechinah is exiled. She is alienated from Her nest and home, the Holy Temple. My sons, the fledglings, dwell alone among their enemies, the nations of the world. But none among you cry out to arouse My compassion for them!

"For My own sake, then, I will redeem them!"

The holy Zohar records a miraculous story, about a time when Divine compassion was aroused through this commandment.

Rabbi Elazar, the son of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, was walking with his colleagues when a dove appeared. The dove informed Rabbi Elazar that his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosi, had fallen seriously ill.

Rabbi Elazar ordered the dove to assure Rabbi Yosi that in three days he would miraculously recover, and Rabbi Elazar and his colleagues would then arrive at his home to celebrate.

Soon afterwards, the distressed dove returned to inform them that since Rabbi Elazar had annulled the heavenly decree hanging over his father-in-law, the angel of death had taken in his stead another Rabbi Yosi--Rabbi Yosi of Pekiyin.

Hearing this tragic news, Rabbi Elazar decided to travel to Pekiyin to comfort Rabbi Yosi's family and to personally take part in the burial of this great sage.

Upon their arrival, the rabbis were informed that Rabbi Yosi was survived by a young son and daughter. Rabbi Yosi's wife, the mother of these two young children, had died a short time before, and these youngsters were now doubly orphaned.

In the room where the departed lay, the son would not allow anyone near his father's body. He laid his head close to his father's and wept bitterly and uncontrollably. Looking heavenward, he declared:

"Master of the Universe, You wrote in your holy Torah these words:

"'If you chance upon a bird's nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs, and the mother is sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young. Let the mother go and take only the young...'

"Master of the Universe! According to your holy Torah, we must let the mother live, and surely we must not take the mother and leave the children unattended.

"You, G‑d, must fulfill the words of Your holy Torah. My sister and I are two little birds. My mother has died, and so our father has taken her place to care for us.

"According to Your Torah, dear G‑d, You may take either me or my sister, but You may not take away my beloved father!"

Hearing the poignant plea of this innocent child, Rabbi Elazar's colleagues began to weep.

Suddenly, the room became silent, as a pillar of fire appeared, hovering over the bed of the departed. Everyone in the room ran out, and Rabbi Elazar's frightened colleagues wanted to do the same.

Rabbi Elazar calmed them, saying, "A great miracle is about to occur."

Out of the fiery pillar, a heavenly voice sounded: "Fortunate are you, Rabbi Yosi, to merit such a wise son whose justified complaints split the gates of heaven, ascending before G‑d's Throne of Glory.

"A new verdict has been passed. You, Rabbi Yosi, will live twenty-two more years, in order to have the privilege of teaching this wise child."

Then, as suddenly as it had descended, the pillar disappeared, as Rabbi Yosi's eyes fluttered open.

Rabbi Elazar exclaimed to his friends, "How fortunate are we to have witnessed with our own eyes the miracle of the dead coming to life!"

Rabbi Elazar then blessed Rabbi Yosi, "How fortunate are you to have experienced the miracle of the resurrection of the dead because of the wisdom of your young son!"

Meanwhile, the young child had fainted from the overwhelming events. When he awoke, it was impossible for him to fully express his elation, as he smothered his father with hugs and kisses.

Rabbi Elazar remained for three days to celebrate. During this time, he asked Rabbi Yosi to describe what he had observed in the heavens.

Rabbi Yosi replied, "I may not disclose to human ears what I have seen. I can only reveal that when my son was pleading, weeping and protesting to G‑d from the depths of his being with utter sincerity, and he referred to the mitzvah of sending the mother bird away, three-hundred thousand heavenly chairs shook, as three-hundred thousand tzaddikim (righteous individuals) stood up in the heavens, begging G‑d to return me to the living!"


"And those that repose in dust will come to life" (Isaiah 26:19)

The cry of one earnest, sincere, orphaned child who longed to be rejoined with his father was all it took. The tender voice of the young son of Rabbi Yosi of Pekiyin broke through the heavens and stormed directly to the Throne of Glory to perform an unexpected miracle.

Certainly, then, the earnest, sincere cry of each of us, G‑d's orphaned children, can ascend to the very heavens and bring upon us the promised Era of Redemption that we have awaited for so long. Certainly, our sincere pleas, too, will evoke the many hundreds of thousands of tzaddikim to storm the heavens to bring upon us this epoch.

And then, we will no longer experience the orphaned child's sad cries, or exile's harsh pains, as the good in all of creation will become openly manifest and revealed.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.
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Anonymous London November 23, 2016

Shiluch HaKen This Mitzva is wonderful, humane and powerful when it is performed in context and not performed for evil reasons. What do you say if a poacher is just looking for unusual eggs to sell to collectors, but performs the mitzva of shooing away the mother bird? Is he considered as having performed a Mitzva? I think we have to look at this from the point of view of whether it is necessary to do this at all in our day. We are not chalila starving so that we need to eat the eggs and the fledglings. In our day, it would be preferable to let the mother bird continue to take care of her eggs and fledglings than to perform an unnecessary mitzva for the sake of performing this mitzvah because that is what it says.
As regards it being a Segula in the Zohar for a childless couple; this, too, is now "out of date" because medical knowledge has helped many childless couples have children with blessings. Meanwhile the mother bird will not return to her nest. Reply

lorie September 18, 2016

It is a great mitzvah since it is given by G-d and many people get wise in Israel by studying and contemplating it and even enough to bring miracles such as bringing life from moving hundreds of thousands of angels in heaven. So much revelation from the telling of a mother bird and her nest of young. Reply

David Johns Creek, GA September 10, 2014

I've known people who did this - not because they wanted the eggs, but just to "fulfill a mitzvah".

I'm sorry, but if you don't actually need to eat the eggs, there is no reason to stress the mother out just so you can be religious.
I've always refused, because to me, if it's not a matter of need, this is not a mitzvah. Reply

Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar via mychabad.org January 7, 2014

To Paul Our sages too said that the reason for this law was not about 'compassion' - this too is ultimately done as it is a instruction from Hashem, not because of reasons we ascribe to it.

The Torah does not prohibit us from eating meat. While we can debate why that it so (and you may enjoy reading the following article which discusses it at length) it is the Torah that is our guidebook for life and what defines what is a Mitzvah and what is not.

After all, a Mitzvah means a connection. A Mitzvah is those things that were instructed to us by G-d through which we form a relationship with G-d. Some will make more sense to us than others and that is OK! Reply

Anonymous US December 12, 2013

Shiluach Hakan It is inconceivable that one believes blindly that such a cruel deed is considered a mitzva. It is supposedly meant to teach us compassion. ?? Compassion by cruelty to other creatures? The perpetrator of this "mitzva" only destroys life. He is not benefiting from the tiny eggs he finds or from the few baby birds which are so tiny that they supply no meat. The only reason somebody will do it is because of the misguided belief in being blessed by long life. Well, look at the longevity of people that did the mitzva and you will discover that they live as long as anybody else and the only consequence of their "mitzva" of shiluach hakan is a distraught bird and and a misguided pleasure of power felt by the perpetrator. Reply

Marty Denver August 24, 2013

Fledglings I appreciate chasing the mother bird away before taking her eggs. What I don't understand is why would someone take the fledglings? Did they eat baby birds in those days? Or were they going to raise them to be eaten in the future? Or as pet birds?? Can anyone clarify that? Thank you. Reply

Anonymous Delray Beach, FL August 17, 2013

The Holocaust, indeed.. It rather looks as if the Merciful One got tired of being merciful...

Anyway, how can one compare the moment when a child sets out into adult life with a child's being murdered in front of you? Reply

Anonymous August 14, 2013

simple How about do not take the young or let the mother go and simply let the mother remain with her young. Reply

suzy handler woodland hills, ca August 14, 2013

I can identify with this, Channa, when my daughter feld 'the nest' to attend college. I never got over it until I had three wonderful grandsons. Now, they are almost grown but I still am very close with them. It's not like before but different. Change is so very hard. I have often wondered why? Thank you for your wonderful article. Reply

Anonymous USA August 13, 2013

Mother And Nest As we lose our nest over the years. Our children go on to have their own lives. We, as mother need to pray for all our children. Our compassion, toward others, are the nurturing of their spirit. The mission of a woman is to nurture. Without discrimination we need to give a hand in need, if is not of material things, then, with a loving embrace, and the teaching of Torah and His Loving kindness. His mercy endure for ever. Thank you Chana, for your teachings! Reply

Burton Dale West Palm Beach August 13, 2013

Mother and nest It is a sad thing that the nest and mother receive such an issue come to bear, but isn't more compassion given by the loss of eggs or young than the parent? The parent can lay yet more eggs and multiply its kind to replace the tragic loss whereas the egg and young are at greater risk to do so. Even so, it is always a great tragedy when a child does not survive the parent. It violates the natural order of G-d's Creation, in my opinion. Reply

Anonymous August 12, 2013

The holocaust I am very happy to see this site.

I appreciate this teaching, but have many problems in light of the many children that were taken in front of their mothers and fathers in the concentration camps, Reply

Anonymous Chicago, IL, USA August 11, 2013

Don't Understand II Like the writer of comment #4, I don''t understand why the mother bird should be sent away and the eggs or chicks taken? I'd appreciate so much if a person with much wisdom in Chumash can explain this to us. Reply

inspired ny, ny June 23, 2010

this article is a beautifully written and has a very powerful lesson in it. the story shook me up. i am going to share this with all of my friends. chana your words never cease to inspire me; may G-d bless you for your beautiful work Reply

dalia May 30, 2009

sending mother bird away this is beautiful, i found a nest in my front yard , and because it was in my yard , not in free range i was told to leave the mother alone. . Reply

Virginia M. Mitchell farminfton hillsMi, mi September 13, 2008

Your story of the child and his father brought tears to my eyes Reply

Anonymous NY, NY June 5, 2008

Don't Understand Why does anyone have to send the mother bird away and take the eggs or young? Why not just leave the family as a unit? Reply

Anonymous August 29, 2006

So happy to see the Zohar mentioned and a portion of it dealt with. Many thanks, Mrs. Weisberg. Reply

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