Rebecca Masinter

Ki Teitzei - Centrality of Motherhood

Parshas Ki Seitzei includes the famous mitzvah of shiluach hakein, sending away a mother bird before collecting chicks or eggs from her nest. It’s a mitzvah that begs many questions, not the least of which is why is this mitzvah so significant that the doer is promised, “lmaan yitav lach”, that it will be good for you, and “vhaarachta yamim” you will live long? The other mitzvah the Torah offers these promises for is of course honoring your parents. We understand why Kibud Av V’Eim is significant and should have a blessing associated with it, but why this mitzvah of shiluach hakein? Rav Shamshon Refael Hirsch has a beautiful perspective on this mitzvah. Imagine you’re walking down a country road and you find a mother bird sitting on her eggs or her young and you have the opportunity to take both mother and babies home for your dinner! The mitzvah, says Rav Hirsch, is to take the mother. A person can choose either to take or not take the babies but one must take the mother says Rav Hirsch, and then “shaleach teshalach”, you have to let her go free. Why? Because when you encountered her she was fulfilling her task of motherhood, caring for her young. The time that a mother bird is fulfilling her role as mother provides her protection and gives her freedom, because you may not keep a mother bird you find in the midst of mothering. Rav Hirsch explains the purpose of this mitzvah is to make sure that every single member of Klal Yisrael is aware of the paramount importance the Torah ascribes to a woman’s activities in her home, even to the extent that we show appreciation to a mother in the animal kingdom by releasing a brooding mother bird. She is freed precisely because she was on the nest guarding her babies. Showing honor and respect to a mother, even an animal mother, is the basis of a person’s happiness and welfare, hence “lmaan yitav lach”, it will be good for you. When a society respects the dignity of motherhood, it will be good for the people in that society and they will enjoy happiness and longevity. This is why the other mitzvah with this promise is honoring your parents. Both mitzvahs share an emphasis on the profound importance that the Torah places on parenting and the recognition and respect that each person must have for not only their parents, but for all mothers, even animal mothers. Isn’t that spectacular? Most of us aren’t raising our children in a society which glorifies and honors motherhood, and many of us are probably not comfortable tooting our own horns and praising ourselves to our children, but if they don’t hear it from us, they may never hear it at all. The primary, foundational importance of motherhood has to be taught - hence this unique mitzvah, and it is our role not just to appreciate our own importance, but to communicate the importance of our task to our children too.