Dvar Torah: Ki Seitzei – Compassion and Cruelty, The Dual Nature Shiluach Hakan

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    Classics and Beyond:Ki Seitzei – Compassion and Cruelty
    שלח תשלח את האם ואת הבנים תקח לך למען ייטב לך והארכת ימים
    You shall surely send away the mother, and only then may you take the young for yourself, so that it may go well with you, and you will prolong your days (Devarim 22:7).
    The Torah, for the most part, does not tell us the specific reward for mitzvos, but there are two exceptions: kibbud av va’eim – honoring parents (Devarim 5:16), and shiluach hakein – sending away the mother bird. The reward for both is the same: a good and long life.
    The Yerushalmi (Pe’ah 1:1) points out that these two mitzvos form bookends; kibbud av va’eim is regarded as the most difficult of mitzvos, the chamurah she’be’chamuros, in contrast to shiluach hakein, which is considered the easiest, the kallah she’be’kallos.
    Although one of these mitzvos is hard to perform and one mitzvah is simple, Hashem promises the identical reward for both mitzvos. From this we learn that we cannot know the true value of mitzvos in the eyes of Hashem, and we see the folly of trying to perform only the mitzvos that we think ought to be highly rewarded – those that seem taxing and burdensome and hence more significant. As the Mishnah in Avos (2:1) states, “Be careful with a minor mitzvah as with a major one, for you do not know the reward for the mitzvos.”
    The Vilna Gaon (Mishlei 30:17; Imrei Noam on Berachos 33b; Kol Eliyahu on Bereishis 22:12) draws another contrast between kibbud av va’eim and shiluach hakein. We typically assume that shiluach hakein and kibbud av va’eim are both mitzvos with compassion as their motivating core. One may argue, as does the Ramban (Devarim 22:6), that the goal of the mitzvah is not mercy to the mother bird, but accustoming and habituating ourselves to act mercifully, for one who is accustomed to being cruel to animals becomes cruel by nature in general, even to people. Nevertheless, there is no question that the Ramban still considers sending away the mother bird a compassionate act.
    However, there is another, perhaps counterintuitive, way to understand the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, wherein its objective is not rachamim, compassion, but achzariyus, cruelty, which will evoke compassion from Hashem.
    Rabbeinu Bachya (Devarim 22:7) brings down the Zohar, which details how this mitzvah arouses rachamim for the entire world. When the bird is sent away from her nest, she is filled with grief over the destruction of her nest and how she has become separated from her chicks. She becomes so upset that she wants to kill herself. Because of her great sorrow, the angel in charge of birds requests compassion on her part. Then HaKadosh Baruch Hu, about Whom it is written, “Ve’rachamav al kol maasav – His compassion is on all His works” (Tehillim 145:9), extends an abundance of compassion to all those who suffer and are in need of mercy. So we see that the one who fulfills the mitzvah of shiluach hakein stirs up rachamim for the whole world, and he will benefit along with them. That is why the reward for this mitzvah is: “so that it may go well with you, and you will prolong your days.”
    Quoting the Zohar, the Vilna Gaon writes that sending away the mother bird is a cruel and heartless act, in contrast to kibbud av va’eim, which is an act of rachmanus and love. And it is precisely this contrast that causes those who perform these mitzvos to be rewarded with the same blessing of a good and long life.
    The true measure of a person is only seen when he performs a mitzvah that goes against his natural inclination. There are people who are intrinsically kind; for them, honoring parents comes easily. Those people would likely find it difficult to perform an act that seems cruel, like shiluach hakein. Conversely, there are people who do not naturally possess the characteristic of kindness. For them, the mitzvah of kibbud av va’eim may be difficult to perform, while shiluach hakein may come easy for them.
    We are rewarded for obeying Hashem, not for acting in accordance with our logic and personal inclinations. To be regarded as an adam shaleim, a complete person, who is perfect in his commitment to Hashem and His mitzvos, one must master davar ve’hipucho, two diametrically opposed character traits. The chesed performed by a person will not necessarily deem him a tzaddik – because he may simply be a naturally kind person. He may never have had to develop and nourish compassion and a love of others. His kindness, therefore, may not be a testament to his righteousness, but only because he enjoys performing kind acts. For the naturally kind person to show true allegiance to Hashem, he has to be willing to do the unkind and cruel act. Only then can he be regarded as having true sheleimus. If he possesses both traits – compassion and cruelty – and displays control in utilizing these conflicting emotions correctly, it proves that he has worked on managing his emotions, and for this he is considered a genuine tzaddik.
    Accordingly, we can understand why the mitzvah of kibbud av va’eim and shiluach hakein have the same reward. They share a common purpose: to demonstrate a resolute adherence to carrying out the will of Hashem.
    The meaning of a Gemara in Berachos (33b) now becomes crystal clear. The Mishnah tells us that if someone says that Hashem’s mercy should reach us just as it has reached the bird’s nest, we tell him to be quiet. The Gemara explains that this is because Hashem’s mitzvos were not given in order to bring out the compassion within us, but they are just decrees. The individual mentioned in the Mishnah was under the impression that the purpose of this mitzvah is to bring out compassion. In truth, explains the Gaon, this mitzvah was given for precisely the opposite purpose: to demonstrate that one is prepared to obey Hashem, even when circumstances require an element of insensitivity; the act of sending the mother bird away does, in fact, cause anguish and pain. Hence, this is not rachamim, but we do this mitzvah because Hashem decreed.
    With this in mind, the Vilna Gaon explains something curious about the appellation given to Avraham Avinu after passing his tenth and hardest test, the Akeidah: “Ata yadati ki yerei Elokim atah – Now I know that you are G-d-fearing” (Bereishis 22:12).
    Avraham had passed nine tests with much mesirus nefesh. He had dedicated his life to bringing people closer to Hashem. Wasn’t that enough to prove that he was G-d- fearing? Were the first 137 years of his life prior to the Akeidah not proof-positive that he was a tzaddik?
    Until now, writes the Gaon, Avraham was only known for his hachnasas orchim and gemilus chasadim. He was, as of yet, untested in the opposite venue, the crucible of cruelty. One could say that he was not a tzaddik gamur, a person totally devoted to Hashem who is willing to go to any length to prove it. He just happened to be a caring individual and was acting on his instinct to do kindness.
    But now, after he was willing to offer his son as a sacrifice, a cruel and heartless act that would be unthinkable for a man of compassion, he showed his bona fides. Without hesitation, Avraham was willing to carry out the will of Hashem in an act that contradicted the fundamental nature of his being. It was then that Hashem, and the rest of the world, saw that Avraham was indeed a G-d-fearing man. Avraham had demonstrated that his fulfillment of Hashem’s will was not the byproduct of his own natural inclinations, but a testament to his absolute adherence to the word of Hashem.
    The Yerushalmi (Pe’ah 1:1, based on Mishlei 30:17) writes that just as those who perform kibbud av va’eim and shiluach hakein receive the same reward, those who do not perform either of these mitzvos receive similar punishments. If someone does not perform kibbud av va’eim properly, ravens, which are cruel, will peck and tear at his flesh. If someone fails to perform shiluach hakein properly, eagles, which are compassionate, will feast on him.
    Why is the person who did not keep kibbud av va’eim punished through a raven, while the person who did not keep shiluach hakein punished via an eagle? And how is the nature of the bird, whether cruel or kind, a factor?
    The Gaon explains that these punishments truly fit the crime and are a perfect demonstration of the concept of middah keneged middah. In order to perform kibbud av va’eim properly, the trait of rachmanus is necessary, whereas by shiluach hakein the middah called for is achzariyus. When a person does not honor or attend to his parents’ needs, he is acting with uncalled-for cruelty. Paralleling this, he is attacked by ravens, which are regarded as a cruel species. Ravens are not even interested in eating their prey; they just rip them apart out of cruelty. In order to perform shiluach hakein, a person must act with achzariyus. His refusal to do so is a product of misplaced compassion. As punishment for his misguided rachmanus, his flesh is eaten by a compassionate bird, the eagle, which eats its prey for nourishment.
    Every middah has its time and place. We must follow Hashem’s guidelines to know when and where to use each one. Our only objective must be to fulfill His will.

    Reb Eliezer

    Why is ki yikorei written with an aleph rather than a heh,similarly in Parashas Vaychi asher yikro eschem beacharis hayomim? The question of the Chavas Yair 67 is, if he does not want the children, can he walk away?
    There are three reasons for this mitzva: 1, to show mercy, 2, to protect the species (Chinuch), and 3, the Zohar, to symbolize the mother looking for its children (calling it achzoriyos above) which symbolizes the redemptiion. Axxording to the first two eeasons we should be able to walk a1ay but not the third. Sending away the mother and leaving the children is no mercy. Also the species are protected. To show hope for the redemptiion would still apply.
    The means of bringing Meshiach requires speech. The Midrash says that emunah (krias shma), hishtachvoyo, tefila and learning misnayos will bring the redemption. This might be the implicatiion here of how to bring Meshiach.


    There is a 3rd mitzvah where the Torah promises arichus yamim. That is the mitzvah of weights and measures. In other words honesty in ones business dealing.

    Reb Eliezer

    When it comes to kibud av voaim, could be the long life is automatic. The Rav Abarbanel in Parashas Yisro explains that your children will see you honoring your parents, so they also will honor you which will elimnate all the headaches and give you long life.

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