by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"If you happen upon a bird's nest on the road, in a tree or on the ground,
baby birds or eggs, and the mother is sheltering the baby birds or eggs,
you shall not take the mother with the children. You shall surely send the
mother away, and then take the children, in order that things will be good
for you, and your life will be lengthened." [22:6-7]
If it seems unusual to be blessed with long life merely for sending the
mother bird away, then the Medrash is still more surprising: "And what is
the reward which you take? That if you do not have children, I will bless
you with children. If you keep this mitzvah, you hasten the coming of the
Moshiach. If you keep this mitzvah, you hasten [the arrival of] the prophet
Eliyahu" [who will come before the Moshiach].
The Avnei Azel asks, why is this mitzvah so great? Why does performance of
this mitzvah in particular merit such a tremendous reward?
The answer, he says, lies in the impact on the individual who performs it.
And then he points us towards one of the most harmful attributes which any
person can have: "anochiyus", perhaps best translated as self-centeredness.
Wherever anochiyus is found, the emphasis on "Self!", we find trouble as
well. This is true in education, religious activities, and interpersonal
relations in general. When people are unable to set aside their own
personal biases, their desire to take credit, or their desire to enrich
themselves, even when doing so is so obviously for the greater good -- the
result is anger, discord, and hatred.
I remember seeing this happen. I'll avoid saying where or when to protect
the guilty, but it involved a large program hosted by an unnamed
institution. Thousands of children, and thousands of adults, attended. Even
a camera crew arrived, from a local television station. Initially they
sought out the woman who ran the institution -- perhaps the reporter
expressed interest in doing an interview, but I didn't hear the beginning
of this process. Of course, as a youngster curious about technology, I
wandered over to watch as soon as I noticed the camera.
After the reporter toured the site, he decided that the most interesting
images and story he could present would be to describe the day's events
while standing in one of the "activity areas" (forgive me for not providing
specifics) in the middle of the children. I think most of us would agree
that scenes with children playing are very interesting, helping to make a
good human-interest story -- and, therefore, that focusing on the children
was more important than giving center stage to the adults in charge. Using
his best judgment, the reporter decided the pictures of the children
playing were more worthwhile, and would do more for the reputation of the
institution than interviewing the director. Looking back now, I think he
was right, and I think almost anyone would agree.
Nonetheless, the director was fuming. Steam was shooting from her ears,
burning its memory into my young mind. She wanted her interview! _She_
wanted to be on television! And thus, she was (in my humble opinion)
placing her own honor and fame in front of what was truly best for the
institution which had placed her at its head. Whether she was right or
wrong, if I, as a small bystander, still remember this today, then how do
we imagine the TV station reacted the next time they received a press
release from Institution X? Jealousy, honor and desire take a person out of
this world, say our Sages -- to the point where the pursuit of personal
honor can damage an organization's reputation, or worse.
What, then, do we learn from the Mitzvah of sending away the mother bird?
We learn that we cannot take everything for ourselves. We take the eggs
which we need, but we send away the mother bird, to lay eggs once again for
someone else's benefit. We learn to set aside our own self-interest on
behalf of the larger community, the entire Congregation of Israel, or all
humanity. And by encouraging us to set aside disputes in favor of peace,
keeping this Mitzvah truly brings the Moshiach closer!
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