When it comes to ethical decisions, the Torah will often offer specific scenarios. For example, “Do not deduct interest from loans to your fellow Israelites” or “When you see the ass of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless help raise it.”
This week we read Parshat Ki Teitzei. We receive laws about war and taking care of hostages, laws about our clothing, laws about family relationships, including parents and children, laws about taking care of the poor, and so much more. Ki Teitzei is in fact the Torah portion with the most number of mitzvot (commandments) in it, but the recurring theme is how we should execute and fulfill the mitzvot prescribed to us.
Among these verses is a law about what to do if one stumbles upon a bird’s nest in a tree or on the ground with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting with the nest. What are you to do if you want the eggs?
In theory, this is talking about whether we should chase away the mother, or take the mother along with the eggs. It sounds like a conversation about food or the necessity of materials. However, the Torah is clear in specifying that to take the mother along with the young is brutal and forbidden. Rather, respect for the mother earns one the reward of long life.
There are only two places in the Torah where long life is the reward for observing a commandment; this is one of them, and the other is in the commandment to honor one’s parents. In other words, “respecting the mother” is highly valued whether or not the mother is human. “Long life” is the promise of fulfillment and joy, and the Torah teaches that a mitzvah as important as respect deserves a reward as meaningful as life itself.