Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Ki Tetzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19) Mother Birds and Smartphones

An eye-opening article in The Atlantic (September, 2017), Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation, profiles post-Millennials – teens who grew up from an early age with smartphones and tablets constantly present in their lives. It notes how smartphones have led teens to live a more isolated life than any previous generation. Instead of having to worry about teens staying out late or getting involved in dangerous activities, parents of today’s teens have to worry that their teens don’t go out at all. They sit in their rooms on their phones. As always, when we look into traditional Jewish sources, we find helpful ideas that shed light on modern challenges; this time it’s from an early 19th century Chassidic master. One of the hardest mitzvot to understand involves sending away a mother bird from her nest. If you find a nest and want to take the eggs or young birds, you first need to send away the mother and only then may you take the eggs or the young birds from the nest. In addition to not making sense, the very act of sending a mother bird from her nest seems cruel; what’s more incomprehensible is that it one of only two mitzvot in the entire Torah that is said to give long life to the person who fulfills it (The other mitzvah is honoring one’s parents). It is beyond the scope of this piece to fully elaborate on this seemingly odd mitzvah; we will focus on an idea lesson based on the work of Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Epstein (1753-1823) in his classic, Ma’or Vashemesh.
If a bird’s nest happens to be 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 young birds or on the eggs, you will not take the mother from the young. You will send away the mother, and then you may take the young for yourself so that will be good for you, and lengthen your days. (Deuteronomy 22:6-7) Why is being “on the road” significant; shouldn’t this mitzvah also apply if one were at home and saw a nest? Homiletically, the mother bird represents inspiration and spirituality. The mother isn’t just a nine-month holding tank for a developing child, after birth, she is the nurturer who from the youngest age teaches, monitors and mentors the child to grow as a human. There is no substitute for a mother who understands and brings out the true essence of a child (perhaps this the source of the modern term “motherlode.”) The fledglings in the nest represent people who seek out inspiration. In our pursuit of growth, many believe that the best way to do that to isolate oneself and in meditation, thereby detaching oneself from the material world, with all its pitfalls; one might even think this is the true path to G-d. Jewish ideology knows the opposite to be true because if we pursue the isolation idea, we will miss a major part of our growth. We need to interact with others, to learn from and sometimes grow with them. At times, it might hamper some raw inspiration, something we seek, but if one truly wants emotional and spiritual growth, (s)he needs to interact with others. By dealing with the ups and downs of the relationships we have and the people who enter our lives, we are forced to react and, if we are mindful, we will realize our limitations and our inability to control people or dictate what they think. Every time we realize this, we give ourselves a conscious message that we have limitations; this is the first step being humble. Humility is one of the most effective ways of having a person reach his or her potential because the more we inflate ourselves, the less “me” there is; it’s just hot air. Therefore, the Torah states that we should not take the mother bird, the inspiration, at the expense of the children. Rather, we need to send away the mother bird, to give up on some of that raw inspiration in order to interact with the ‘fledglings.’ Now we understand why “on the road” is so significant. The only way to grow in one’s emotional and spiritual life is to get out and be “on the road.” When you learn how to deal with the pain of being let down or hurt, you will experience the pleasure of meaningful relationships and even love. But one can’t have those relationships if (s)he doesn’t go “on the road.” When you are forced to deal with a difficult person, you will have to find in yourself emotional and spiritual tools you never thought you had. It might be perseverance or it might be compassion or seeing things from the other’s perspective. Whatever it is, you will be getting a daily dose of your limitations in being able to affect or control people or situations. The more you understand what you are not capable of-changing people or circumstances-the more confidence you will have in what you are capable of and you will be able to pursue your passion rather than complain about how others are at fault. The stay at home syndrome may be most pronounced among teenagers, but we are all affected by the allure of technology to keep us home rather than go out. We have to constantly remind ourselves of the benefits of personal social interaction and that the people with whom we interact-those we love and even those we would rather not deal with-will be our greatest source of growth.   Good Shabbos
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 Good Shabbos
Rabbi Oppenheim
Charlotte Torah Center