| Compassion Leads to Long Life
It’s clinically proven and also common sense that being a kind, compassionate, and generous person contributes to good health and longevity. According to a recent study, people who are compassionate have less stress, and a reduced the chance of heart failure, which leads to longevity. Compassion might not always be the cause for good health, but it’s a symptom of a healthy person. What is the correlation between compassion and long life? One of the most esoteric mitzvot addresses this question. If you see a bird’s nest, send away the mother and take the eggs. If, along the road, you chance upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young. Let the mother go, and take only the young, so that it will be good for you and prolong your days. (Deut. 22:6-7) How can we explain this seemingly mysterious act? There are three famous approaches. Ramban (1194-1270) says that compassion for the mother bird herself is not a motive for this mitzvah, since human needs override those of animals. Rather, the Torah wishes us to act compassionately so that we instill this trait in ourselves. He also references a profound kabbalistic reason for this mitzvah. The Zohar explains that this mitzvah is meant to awaken and intensify G-d’s mercy on His creations. The pain which the mother bird suffers when she is sent away and forced to abandon her young “awakens the forces of mercy in the world” and releases an outpouring of mercy from the heavens above, which alleviates all kinds of human suffering. Rabbeinu Bachya (1255-1340) states that taking the mother and her offspring at the same time is analogous to destroying the entire species. Ksav Sofer suggests a reason why one who sends away the mother bird merits long life by quoting a passage in the Talmud. Three people don’t have a life: those who are compassionate, those who are angry, and those who are delicate. (Pesachim 113b) We can understand anger and being overly (physically or emotionally) sensitive as reasons for a difficult life, but didn’t we say that being compassionate is good for health and longevity? One commentary (Rashbam) explains that the life of compassion is not a life because such a person will always be preoccupied with the welfare of others and, consequently, not be able to rest. This is known today as compassion fatigue. The most taxing aspect of caring for others is when the compassionate person sees someone else suffering but can’t do anything about it. You might say, “Why would I want to send away the mother bird and develop the trait of compassion if it will lead to a life of worry about other people as I watch them suffer but can’t do anything about it? Having compassion is going to shorten my life and give me a life with no rest!” The Torah addresses this thought with a blessing, so that it will be good for you and prolong your days. If we develop this trait, G-d will help us find solutions for those we are trying to help; ultimately one’s life will not be shortened, rather, in the merit of this mitzvah, it will be lengthened. Developing compassion or empathy for others requires sacrifice. Aside from the commitment to sacrifice one’s time and energy to help others, there is an emotional toll that goes with it, especially when we are unable to help or when the recipient is unappreciative of our efforts. Through this mitzvah, the Torah teaches that this should not be a deterrent. To the contrary, through our compassion, we will be able to provide for others for years to come.