Parashat Ki Tetze

Compassion That Can Bring Messiah

It all begins with how we treat animals.

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The Torah Ideal

The Jewish paradigm of a perfect world is the Garden of Eden, in which harmony and peace existed between all creatures. The curse of death had not been visited upon the world, and both humans and animals were vegetarian, both by instinct and Divine mandate. (In fact, even after the banishment from Eden humans were not permitted to eat meat until after the great flood during the generation of Noah.) This Eden-like state of harmony and peace will be restored in the Messianic era. As the prophet Isaiah states (11:6-7), "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb…the lion shall eat straw like the ox…"

According to Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, first Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel, all creatures will then return to their original vegetarian diet, for the tikkun (spiritual rectification) accomplished by meat-eating will have been fully accomplished.

Of course, the central feature of the Messianic era is freedom from political subjugation. The entire Jewish people will return to the land of Israel, where at last they will dwell in peace. All conflict between nations will cease.

Beyond this, human nature itself will be transformed, as it is written, "A new heart I shall give you, and a new spirit I shall put within you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your flesh, and I shall give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26)." The prophets envisioned a future world in which compassion, not selfishness and strife, will proliferate. "They shall neither hurt nor destroy upon all My holy mountain, for the knowledge of God shall fill the earth as the water covers the seas (Isaiah 11:9)."

From Study to Deeds

Given this, we can see a profound connection between the mitzvah of sending forth the mother bird, the freeing of a slave, and the advent of the Messiah. According to another Midrash (Devarim Rabbah 6:1), this precept is an act of compassion:

"Rabbi Yudan ben Pazi stated: Why is an infant circumcised after eight days? The Holy One, blessed be He, extended mercy to him by waiting until he became strong enough. And just as the Holy One, blessed be He, has mercy on human beings, so does He have mercy on animals; as it is written, 'A bullock, a lamb, or a kid goat, when it is born, it shall be seven days under its mother, but from the eighth day and thenceforth it may be accepted as an offering to God (Leviticus 22:27).' Not only this, but the Holy One, blessed be He, declared, '(A mother cow) and her young you shall not slaughter on the same day (Leviticus 22:28).' And just as the Holy One, blessed be He, has mercy upon beasts, so does He have mercy upon birds, as it is written (Deut. 22:6), 'When you encounter a bird's nest…'"

Certainly the Torah wishes to ennoble us through its teachings (Avot 1:17): "The study (midrash) is not the main thing, but the deed (ma'aseh)." The practical implication of the precept of sending away the mother bird is clear: acts of compassion for other human beings (such as freeing a slave) and ultimately world peace and enlightenment are brought about by an act of compassion for animals.

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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.