Posted By The Stash

It is vital that Intelligent Jews read “between the lines of ritual” and seek out the moral and ethical teachings of the commandments, especially those that seem to be “dated”. One of the outstanding examples of this is in today’s parasha, where we are told that it is forbidden to slaughter an animal and its calf on the same day. There is a similar mitzva found later in the Torah which commands us not to chase a mother bird from her nest in order to take the eggs.

The Kli Yakar, a very profound 17th century commentator, observed that these were educative mitzvot: “If children observe parents being tender to a mother bird and its offspring, they will think to themselves ‘how much more important is it for children to care tenderly for their parents?” He also added parents bring about the birth of a child, but G-d caused the creation. Similarly, acting contemplatively when seeking bird’s eggs or slaughtering meat would serve as a reminder that we are the harvesters, but G-d provided the abundance through the renewing power of creation. The Kli Yakar would surely be delighted by conservation efforts and concerns for the maintenance of biodiversity in the face of increased pressures to reduce the size of rainforests and native habitats.

There is a deep message here about our “oneness” with nature and the importance of being “conservers” rather than “rulers” of the world. There is also a powerful reminder of how carefully our children observe everything we do and embed it for possible later use. This was true 400 years ago and it still resonates. There are some, such as Rabbi Kook, who understood these mitzvoth as even more reasons for practicing vegetarianism. For them, the human role as hunter reflects a deep desire to displace nature, to drive apart mothers and children. For others, who either enjoy meat, or eat it because they acknowledge their human frailty, these mitzvot serve as cautionary reminders, along with the prescriptions of kashrut, that we must at least minimize the pain and suffering this causes the animals.

Why should we care about these things? Maimonides, the great rationalist, argued that being cognizant of the feelings of animals would humble us and make us more conscious of our role as Divine stewards. So true. Intelligent Jews realize that these mitzvoth lead to a mindset that values not only diverse people, but the biodiversity of the world. We can only reach our potential by not treading on others, being consciously cognizant of their feelings, and being humbly grateful to wake up each morning. Without these mitzvoth to heighten our sensitivity, we will become morally (and soon physically) coarse and self-centred. G-d knows the world has enough of this already.

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