The instructions of the Torah teach us many valuable lessons about how to live with others in this world. The instructions describe a way of life that we often refer to as a Torah way of life. If we simply look at these laws and take them at face value, we might conclude that they have little to do with the world in which we live. We may even deem them irrelevant and unnecessary to study or understand. In the New Covenant Scriptures, Paul reminds Timothy that the Torah is full of wisdom and valuable for instruction, admonishing, correcting, and training for right living. To make the most of the Torah instructions, we must look for moral and ethical values being described.
In our Torah portion for this week, there are two verses that have much to say about our values. “If you happen to come upon a bird’s nest along the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young; you shall certainly let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, in order that it may be well with you and that you may prolong your days” (Deut. 22:6–7). In the middle of verses that describe relationships of husbands and wives, building roofs, and mixing seeds, we have two verses about the welfare of mother birds.
There is a theme in the Torah about baby animals and their mothers. “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk” or “When an ox or a sheep or a goat is born, it shall remain seven days with its mother, and from the eighth day on, it shall be accepted as a sacrifice of an offering by fire to the LORD” (Lev 22:27). Chesed extends even to the animal world. The unique role of a mother, whether person or animal, is described in the Torah.
These prohibitions about mothers and their young among animals demonstrate the importance of avoiding cruelty. If we go out of our way to show kindness to animals, how much more should we show kindness to people?! Carrying this a step further, we must never act in a cruel fashion toward any living thing. It is interesting that this little command about birds ends with a great promise of prolonging life. Many of the laws in this portion are about protecting life. These and other passages remind us of the life-giving role of mothers, and the importance of showing chesed to all living beings.