Parashat Ki Tetze

Compassion That Can Bring Messiah

It all begins with how we treat animals.

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Provided by Canfei Nesharim, providing Torah wisdom about the importance of protecting our environment.

"If you chance upon a bird's nest along the way in any tree or on the ground, whether it contains young birds or eggs, and the mother is sitting upon the young birds or upon the eggs--you shall not take the mother bird together with her children. You shall surely send away (shalei'ach tishalach) the mother, and only then may you take the young for yourself; that it may go well for you, and you may prolong your days (Deut. 22:6-7)."

Our Sages discern within this Torah law several surprising and far-reaching implications. Concerning the phrase shalei'ach tishalach ("you shall surely send away"), the Midrash states:
canfei nesharim"Why does the verse use a double expression? Because one who fulfills the 'sending forth' of this precept will be granted the privilege of 'sending forth' a slave to freedom. As it is written (Deut. 15:12), 'And when you send him forth free…' Fulfilling the precept of sending forth the mother bird also hastens the advent of the Messiah…

"Rabbi Tanchuma said: Fulfilling this precept hastens the arrival of Elijah the Prophet, whose coming is associated with the expression 'to send forth.' As it states (Malakhi 3:23), 'Behold, I shall send forth to you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of God…' and he shall console you as it says (ibid.), 'He will return the hearts of parents towards children.'"

At first glance, these connections may seem arbitrary. What does the act of sending away a mother bird before taking the nestlings have to do with freeing slaves, or the coming of Elijah the Prophet and the Messiah? The Midrash uses the verb tishalach (to send away) as the element that connects the issues it mentions. But this semantic link between the three verses only begs the question: What do these issues actually have in common?

Judaism & Animals

A possible answer may be found by considering Jewish teachings on compassion to animals. While the Torah clearly places humanity above the animal kingdom, it mandates respect for all creatures, forbids causing animals unnecessary suffering, and idealizes the state of peace and harmony among all living things that will prevail during the Messianic era. The term nefesh chayah (living soul) is applied to animals as well as humans (Genesis 1:21, 1:24).

The Kabbalists, too, stress the importance of compassion and respect for animals, since all things emanate from the Divine Wisdom and serve God's Will. Perhaps the cornerstone of the Jewish attitude toward animals is the Psalmist's declaration (145:9): "His compassion is upon all of His works." The Talmud (Sota 14a) teaches: Because the Creator shows compassion to all creatures, so should we.

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Rabbi Dovid Sears

Rabbi Dovid Sears is the author of The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism (Orot 2003) among other Judaica works.