If you encounter a bird's nest in the street—on any tree, or on the ground—containing chicks or eggs, and the mother is sitting upon the chicks or upon the eggs: You should not take the mother from upon the young.

You should always send away the mother, and then you may take the young for yourself.

-- Devarim 22:6-7

Classic Questions

When may the mother bird not be taken? (v. 6)

Rashi: While she is on her young.

What happens if the mother comes back? (v. 6)

Talmud: Even if the mother bird comes back four or five times before the young have been taken, one must send her away (Chullin 141a).

Why does the Torah promise that "you will live a long time" specifically in connection with this mitzvah? (v. 7)

Rashi: If in the case of such an easy commandment, which involves no financial loss, the Torah states, "[This will be] for your own benefit and you will live a long time"—then how much more will one be rewarded for mitzvos that are more difficult.

The Rebbe's Teachings

A Very Easy Mitzvah (v. 6-7)

Rashi writes (in his commentary on verse 7) that sending away the mother bird is a very easy mitzvah to perform, and it incurs no financial loss. However, this appears to be problematic, because:

  1. Rashi suggests that in sending away the mother bird no financial loss is incurred at all. But surely the value of the mother bird itself is lost? (In fact, the Mishnah states explicitly (Chullin 142a) that a small financial loss is incurred.)

  2. How can Rashi maintain that sending away the mother bird is an example of one of the easiest of the mitzvos of the Torah, when ultimately some form of physical effort is required? Surely a mitzvah such as the recital of the Shema, which involves merely the uttering of words, is easier than the act of sending away the mother bird?

A further issue here concerns Rashi's explanation (v. 8) as to why the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird is followed in the Torah by the mitzvos of:

  1. Constructing guardrails (v. 8).

  2. Not mixing seeds in one's vineyard (v. 9).

  3. Not plowing a field with two different types of animals (v. 10).

  4. Not wearing garments made of wool and linen (v. 11)—because "one mitzvah leads to another."

For, while Rashi does indeed stress that the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird will lead to the mitzvah of constructing a guardrail, he then continues: "You will then come to possess a vineyard, a field, and fine clothes." Why did Rashi not connect these acquisitions with the mitzvos they entail: the mitzvah of not planting mixed seeds, the mitzvah of avoiding mixed plowing, and the mitzvah of avoiding shatnez?

The Explanation

  1. The Talmud maintains that it is a mitzvah to send the mother bird away repeatedly, if necessary, in order that she not see her young being taken away (see Classic Questions above). Rashi, however, who limits himself to a literal interpretation of scripture, rejects this idea. For the Torah states explicitly: "You should not take the mother from upon the young," indicating that this prohibition only applies as long as the mother is upon her young.

    Thus, according to Rashi, when the mother bird returns—as is extremely likely—it would be permissible to take the mother bird too, for at that point she would not be on her young.

    (Even if one wishes to argue that according to Rashi this mitzvah is intended to prevent a person from being cruel [and that therefore the bird would have to be sent away repeatedly], Rashi would maintain that the main cruelty is taking the young from a mother while she is roosting on them—and this is what the Torah wishes to avoid here.)

    And this explains quite simply why Rashi wrote that this mitzvah involves no financial loss at all, because after sending away the mother bird and taking the chicks, the person would still be able to take the mother bird as well, when she returns a short while later.

  2. At the literal level, this mitzvah is easier than reciting the Shema. Reciting the Shema can sometimes be difficult to carry out, e.g., when one is busy with another matter and the time for Shema is passing. In contrast, sending away the mother bird is always related to what one is doing at that moment, namely, collecting birds and eggs. Therefore, this mitzvah is even easier than reciting the Shema, as it is not only simple and effortless to perform and incurs no financial loss, but furthermore, it always comes at a convenient time.

  3. In addition to the physical rewards that, generally speaking, every mitzvah brings, there is also the spiritual "reward" that "one mitzvah leads to another." However, at the literal level, it is only logical that one mitzvah would lead to another if both the mitzvos are similar in nature.

The mitzvah of sending away the mother bird is clearly similar to the mitzvah of erecting guardrails, since:

  1. They are both mitzvos associated with the acquisition of property (new birds and new houses).

  2. Both mitzvos are aimed at saving another creature from pain.

Thus, Rashi writes (in his commentary on verse 8) that the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird not only brings the physical reward that "you will eventually build a new house," but in addition, it brings the spiritual reward of the mitzvah of constructing a guardrail.

However, the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird is not similar to the laws of planting mixed seeds, plowing with different types of animals, or wearing shatnez. Therefore, Rashi could not suggest that a person would come to observe these mitzvos as a result of sending away the mother bird. Nevertheless, the fact that the Torah placed these precepts alongside the others did indicate to Rashi that they are connected in terms of physical reward: "If you have fulfilled the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird... you will then come to possess a vineyard, a field, and fine clothes."

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 9, p. 133ff.)