Ki Seitzei – Commonsense

A number of years ago I merited to fulfill the mitzvah of shiluach hakan, shooing away a mother bird from her nest. I had actually won the privilege of performing this mitzvah, whose reward is longevity, in a Chinese auction. A person who was an expert in the mitzvah, which has a number of intricate details, who helps others perform it, took us to a public street in Boro Park where he knew how to find pigeon nests by storefronts, and showed me what to do. It was a thrilling experience!

We find this mitzvah in this week’s Torah portion of Ki Seitzei. The pesukim state: “If a bird’s nest chances before you on the road, on any tree, or on the ground, and [it contains] fledglings or eggs, if the mother is sitting upon the fledglings or upon the eggs, you shall not take the mother together with her 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 should lengthen your days” (Devarim 22:6, 7).
The Medrish Rabba(6:5) observes about this mitzvah, “Rebbe Elazar said, ‘It did not have to say this, but rather Hashem said that one should be involved in the honor of the world (kavod ha’olam) and fixing the world (tikkun ha’olam) in order to save it.’”

The Etz Yosef explains that the medrish is telling us that the Torah did not need to be so stringent about saving the mother bird. But rather for the sake of the honor of the world, for the bird to have children all over the land, which makes the world beautiful, and for fixing the world, so that people all over can eat them, it is therefore worthwhile to save the mother bird.

The Maharz”u learns a general lesson about life from this medrish, which he feels is the reason for this mitzvah. He says that Rebbe Elazar was teaching that Hashem did not need to defend the affront (or insult) of the bird in a field, for it is ownerless. Indeed, doesn’t Hashem command us to ritually slaughter (shecht) domesticated and wild animals as well as birds? Rather, the point of the mitzvah is not to have mercy on the bird, but instead to teach us knowledge.  He did not command us to do this with something which would cause a loss of money to ourselves, for Hashem spares Jewish money;, rather the mitzvah must be fulfilled with something that one attains from ownerless property. We should learn from here that the will of Hashem is that one should involve himself in matters that will fix the world and give honor to it, and it is one of the needs of the Torah which is worth making a mitzvah out of. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
What is the “knowledge” that the Maharz”u speaks about that Hashem is teaching us through this mitzvah?

It is certainly not animal rights activism, for as he points out Hashem sees nothing wrong with shechting [slaughtering] animals for offerings or for food. He is not worried about the extinction of kosher birds because Hashem controls existence and can choose the extinction of anything or the continuation of anything at His own will.

Rather I humbly believe that the knowledge referenced here refers to commonsense. Assuming that what the Etz Yosef said fits with the Maharz”u, which seemingly it does, then we can understand that commonsense dictates that one should do what one can to beautify the world, making the place we live in pleasing, as well as ensuring that we help one another guarantee we each have ample food and goods to live.

Hashem felt it important to reinforce the imperative of acting with common sense with a mitzvah, however out of His abundance of kindness and mercy He didn’t require us to shoo away our own birds which might have been a loss of money on our part if they don’t come back. We could learn from here that one should be very careful with his own money, not to waste it, that is considered common sense, but we also see from the way Hashem set up the mitzvah that we should encourage people to do the right thing with ways that will minimize putting the other out, as much as possible.