Saturday, September 6, 2014

Don’t Pass Your Brother By

If you come across a bird’s nest beside the road, either in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is sitting on the young or on the eggs, do not take the mother with the young. You may take the young, but be sure to let the mother go, so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life. — Deuteronomy 22:6–7

The Torah portion for this week is Ki Teitzei, which means “when you go out,” from Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 54:1–10.

If you passed by a close relative on the street, you would probably recognize them, right?

I recently came across a social experiment that suggested otherwise. In the experiment, people volunteered to dress up as homeless individuals. Then, they were placed where an unknowing family member typically passed by. Cameras were set up to capture what would happen when family members walked past their closest relatives dressed in a pauper’s clothing.

In all cases, the unsuspecting relatives walked right by. Later, experimenters showed these relatives what the cameras had captured, only this time the faces of the homeless were shown. The relatives were stunned when they realized who exactly it was that they had passed.

In this week’s Torah portion, we come across a law that states: “If you come across a bird’s nest…and the mother is sitting on the young or on the eggs…You may take the young, but be sure to let the mother go.” The Jewish understanding of this verse is that when someone wants to take eggs, he or she must first send the mother bird away. We are not permitted to take the mother’s eggs while she is present.

The Sages pick up on the interesting fact that this rule only applies to birds, but not to animals. This is unusual since all other similar laws apply equally to the animal and bird kingdoms alike. Why would it be okay to take a young deer away from its mother while she is present while we can’t take away eggs when a hen is sitting on them?

The rabbis explain that when human beings or animals give birth, they are naturally bonded with their offspring on account of the similarities between them. A baby resembles its parents. Animals share the same basic features as their parents. However, when birds lay eggs, the eggs bear no resemblance to the parent birds at all. It is a deeper love – one that goes beyond the surface – that bonds a bird with its offspring. It is because of the deeper level of love, and therefore more painful separation, that the law was created.

There is a profound lesson that we can learn from the birds. While we are naturally drawn to those who are outwardly similar to us, we have to learn to bond with the similarities that reside within. Every one of us was created in the image of God. We are all brothers and sisters at our core. Don’t be fooled by the outer shell. Love every person for who they are within. Don’t walk by the homeless or the nameless. Each one is our brother, our sister, our friend. We dare not pass them by!

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein

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