Honoring our Moms

Honoring our Mothers
"The Law of the Mother Bird"
Deuteronomy 22:6-7

On Mother’s Day 2022, I would like us to look at the Law of the Mother Bird found in Deuteronomy 22:6-7, “If you come across a bird’s nest 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 let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, that it may go well with you, and that you may live long.” 
What does this Law of the Mother Bird have anything to do with honoring our moms? Let’s see…the Bible tells us to honor our parents. Why? The most obvious answer is that our parents gave us the greatest gift of all, life itself. They are the channels thru which we entered this world. Heaven and earth came together for us through our parents. When we honor them, we are doing the least we can for those who have given us life.
Our Mother’s Day message is from a passage from the Laws of Moses that contains the Commandment of Shiluach Ha'kan (in Hebrew) - sending away a mother bird (Deut.22:6-7) The way the Bible phrases it in Deut.22:6-7, if you find a nest with chicks in it or with eggs in it, and on top of the nest you notice that there is a mother bird who is crouching over her young, then send the mother bird away, and then you can take the chicks for yourself or the eggs for yourself. The big question here, what exactly is the rationale for this commandment? It seems to have some sort of ethical message. It is the way almost all the Biblical commentators interpret it. But, what exactly what is that message – that interpretation?
There's a lot of discussion of this among the major Rabbinic Commentators, but basically the theories break up into two main camps led by the Rabbi Maimonides, and Rabbi Nachmanides, as the principal proponents of two different approaches. Maimonides argues that the basic idea here is that the worst thing you could do to any parent is to force them to witness the demise of their child. Maimonides tells us not to impose that kind of cruelty even upon a bird. The Law of Moses gives you permission to take eggs or take the chicks, but don't force the mother to watch helplessly the demise of her young, send her away and then you can take the chicks or the eggs.
Rabbi Nachmanides and those in Nachmanides' camp see it a little bit differently. Nachmanides argues that there's something here that speaks about species extinction. In other words, while the Bible gives human beings the right to consume animal products and indeed animals themselves. But we must understand that there's a difference between killing a cow for food and killing out the entire species of cow. There is something ethically abhorrent, Nachmanides argues about driving an entire species to extinction. So, if you were to kill mother bird and baby birds together, two generations at once - you were to take the eggs and the chicks and take the mother bird - that's a kind of species extinction. You are killing two generations of birds. That's Rabbi Nachmanides’ way of looking at it.
Now, on this Mother’s Day, I would like to look at another “layer of meaning” beyond what Rabbi(s) Maimonides and Nachmanides already tells us. The key to seeing this “layer of meaning” is to look at the reward for obeying this commandment. It turns out that sending out the mother bird comes with a promised double blessing of long life and a prosperous life. “…that it may go well with you, and that you may live long (Deut.22:7b).” And there's only one other positive command in the entire Bible that comes with a promised double blessing, and it just so happens that that promised double blessing for the other commandment is also a long life and a prosperous life. What is the other Commandment? The other commandment that carries the same reward is honoring your mother and your father. It too comes with a promise of long life and prosperous life (Ephesians 6:2-3; Deuteronomy 5:16; Exodus 20:12). Ephesians 6:2-3, “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”
What possible common denominator could there be between the commandment of sending away the mother bird and honoring your mother and father? The Bible seems to be linking these commandments together – but WHY? The common denominator would seem to be the “Honoring of Motherhood.”
Let me ask you a question, how easy it is to capture an adult bird? What if I told you to go outside, and catch a bird? There's plenty of trees, probably a lot of birds in them, you can hear them chirping all over the place. So, just go out with your bare hands and catch me a few birds and come on back and write me an email. How many emails of successful bird catchers do you think I'd get from TSH? Almost NONE! It is NOT easy to capture a mother bird. That's the point of the Commandment in Deut.22:6-7.
Imagine you are walking down the street and you see a nest with a mother hovering over its young. There in front of you is the one chance you will have to take a mother bird with your bare hands. You know why? Because that mother bird will do anything to protect her young. She will sacrifice herself, if need be, in a desperate effort to fend you off. She will flutter her wings; she will hover over that nest. Therefore, you might be tempted to take not just the eggs, but you could take the mother too. But the Bible is telling you, don't do that! Why? Because it's a desecration of motherhood.
Let me explain. God gave animals various abilities to evade predators. For a bird, that ability is flight. Its wings protect it. So, what is the Bible saying thru the Law of the Mother Bird? Let's look at the situation. There's a bird's nest, there's eggs, there's chicks, and there's a mother bird. What's the only reason you'd be able to capture that mother? She has wings, and she could fly away. But she doesn’t fly away. Why? It's because she's protecting her young and she won't fly away. You're using her own motherly instincts against her to capture her for your “self-centered purpose.” It's like there's a trap here and the bait in the trap is nothing but the mother's own maternal instincts. You're using the maternal instinct against her to trap her. That's a desecration of motherhood. So, the Law of Moses says, don't do it. Let the mother bird go free. You don't really have a right to catch her.
Here is where you get to the most amazing insight in the world as to what it means to honor your mother. Because what exactly is the idea with law of the mother bird? It's that a mother will do anything for her young, will even sacrifice herself for her young and we are commanded to honor that maternal love, not to turn a mother's own instinct against her. Well, that's not just true for the mother bird, that's true for your own mother too. Your own mother will do anything for you. Yes, she has expectations for you, and she has hopes for you, but at the end of the day if you do not rise to her expectations and even if you disregard her hopes, she will still love you because you are her child. Do not desecrate that love and take advantage of it. That love, that parental love, is intended to help you grow up. So, do not take that love, and use it as a trap that you set against her, where you take, and you take all that love, and you give nothing in return to your mother. Honor your mom by honoring her love for you.
And if you do, you will find that in HONORING motherhood, the source of all life, your own life will be strengthened. You may well find that you yourself will live a long, healthy life. It's only fitting that you show reverence to the source of all life – your mom!
Have a Blessed Mother’s Day!
  • "The Law of the Mother Bird" by Rabbi David Fohrman at Aleph Beta
  • https://www.rabbisacks.org/covenant-conversation/ki-teitse/animal-welfare/