Shiluach Hakan and the Importance of Living in the Moment

This week’s alumni dvar torah is by Aron Wolgel

This week’s Parashah contains one of the most curious mitzvotshiluach hakan:

כִּי יִקָּרֵא קַן־צִפּוֹר לְפָנֶיךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּכָל־עֵץ אוֹ עַל־הָאָרֶץ אֶפְרֹחִים אוֹ בֵיצִים וְהָאֵם רֹבֶצֶת עַל־הָאֶפְרֹחִים אוֹ עַל־הַבֵּיצִים לֹא־תִקַּח הָאֵם עַל־הַבָּנִים: שַׁלֵּחַ תְּשַׁלַּח אֶת־הָאֵם וְאֶת־הַבָּנִים תִּקַּח־לָךְ לְמַעַן יִיטַב לָךְ וְהַאֲרַכְתָּ יָמִים

“If you happen to come upon a bird’s nest along the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young; You shall send away the mother, and [then] you may take the young for yourself, in order that it should be good for you, and you will lengthen your days.״ (Deut. 22:6-7)

Rambam and others identify this mitzvah as an opportunity for us to practice our compassion and sensitivity (by not taking the mother with the young), even though we may not know G-d’s exact rationale.

We can also unlock new understanding by highlighting a key word in the first phrase, baderekh, “as you are on your way.” Meaning, this mitzvah is not something that we can seek out; rather, it is an opportunity that presents itself by chance, while we are engaged in other pursuits (Rashi, citing Sifrei).

Thus, at the core of this mitzvah is the concept of acknowledging the present by paying attention to what is in front of us. According to the verse, we are not meant to search for nests, but we are meant to identify them and recognize their significance when they appear before us.

By fulfilling this mitzvah, verse 7 promises “ve-ha’arachta yamim” our days will be lengthened. This is not a literal promise of longer life (Do x in order to get y); instead, this mitzvah leads to a life of substance. (In doing x, y happens as a by-product) The lengthening of days here refers to a living of fulfillment. Each day becomes longer as it is imbued with deeper meaning.

The lesson of this verse pair is extremely valuable to counter a society that drives in a direction of quick movement in every way – immediate responses to text messages, hurrying to appointments, and drowning in a life of over-scheduled commitments as we rarely look up from our screens.

In fact, the gemara cautions about taking psiot gasot “large steps,” with a warning that these large steps cause blindness (BT Shabbat 113b). When we allow ourselves to fixate on our next destination, everything we have on our schedule, every place we have to get to, we become blind to the world immediately surrounding us.

Furthermore, the idea of “being present” is reinforced by pausing from our busy week to observe the Shabbat candles during kiddush, as this act restores our eyesight (Rema, Darchei Moshe 271:8, citing Maharil).

May we allow ourselves to be “present” in each moment for the rest of the week, noticing the opportunities around us, undistracted by whatever obligations direct us “on our way.” This awareness of the present will ultimately prepare us to accept the bracha of Shabbat as a time of recognition, holiness, and peace. Shabbat Shalom.

Aron Wolgel (SBM 2009) teaches Judaic Studies at the Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield, MI. He is continually inspired by his wife Ariel and their 4 month old twins, Betzalel and Maayan

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