Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ki Saitzai 5775, August 2015, Wisdom is the Mother of all Good

"Tova chochma mi'gevurah," wisdom is greater than strength (Koheles).

In this week's parsha, we learn the mitzvah of sending off a mother bird before gathering her eggs or fledgelings (this is in the case of a kosher wild bird, please understand). Why do we bother, other than obviously to avoid getting pecked or scratched? Why would this be a distinct commandment in itself?

Rambam says this mitzvah is particularly great; Kli Yakar expands that this mitzvah is equivalent to that of the ten commandments to honor your father and mother. This is our clue of how to understand the mitzvah: G-d is H-mself the mother of all things. G-d gave birth to the universe and to every living being. How can we not honor H-m directly by honoring all mothers directly when we have that opportunity?

Historically, chochma, wisdom, was viewed as the feminine divinity aspect of Ha Kodesh B-ruch Hu. It was in keeping with the early Jewish thought process to view wisdom as equivalent in every way as any masculine idea of "G-d." This was essentially altered after the first dispersion to Babylon, as the Jews encountered there excesses of goddess worship and the leadership among the Jews, both civil and religious, feared that this had tainted Jewish thinking. Therefore G-d was re-conceived (ironically) as purely a father figure in Jewish thought. This in no way though removes the original feminine from reality as G-d clearly is not gendered but rather gender is our own dichotomous distinction.

If one uses strength to gather the eggs, one could risk injuring the mother bird herself as well as the egg gatherer risking injury.  If one uses wisdom, and sends away the mother bird, one shows a great respect to Ha Kadosh B-ruch Hu and shows an ability to synthesize all Jewish thought.

Wisdom likewise comes into play in many areas of halacha in this parsha: how to handle the situation of a non-Jewish woman captured in war and desired by a Jew; not to deprive an oldest son of his inheritance; to bury the dead immediately; to help a Jew load or unload a burden; to fence a roof.  These are all areas best approached using wisdom rather than strength (though strength can certainly help load or unload a pack).

Zohar explains the mitzvah thus:
     Driven from its nest, the mother bird flies restlessly over the hills and valleys. It cries bitterly and despairingly over the separation from its children.
     The angel appointed over that species of bird appears before the Heavenly Throne and reproaches G-d, "Why have you, compassionate in all your ways, ordered this in your Torah?"
     The angels appointed over all other species of birds take up the cry…
     Then G-d turns to all the angels and tells them, "…why …do none of you voice concern about my sons and the Shechina, both of whom are in exile? The Shechina is separated from its nest, the Beis Hamikdash in Jerusalem, and My sons the fledgelings dwell among the nations…"
   This plaintive cry evokes Heavenly mercy for the fate of the Jewish people.