I, like all of you, am feeling so very overwhelmed. The Delta variant of the Coronavirus has plunged the world ever deeper in the struggle to contain and ultimately emerge from this pandemic. Out West, fires continue to devour everything and everyone in their path. Another devastating earthquake has hit the tiny island nation of Haiti. The United Nations issued a dire warning about the human impact on the rate of climate change. All this and so much more.
In these chaotic times, I am so grateful to my family, my friends, and my community for the strength that brings hope. For me, Torah is a constant connection to God that is also incredibly strengthening. The ever-new message of Torah brings me the ever-new message of God’s presence. Acknowledging God’s presence does come with responsibility, responsibility to care for all of creation and all creatures great and small. This care and responsibility comes in all shapes and all sizes.
In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, this lesson of care and responsibility comes in a remarkable command that immediately details the reward for fulfilling it. “If along the road you chance upon a bird’s nest in any tree or on the ground with fledglings or eggs, and the mother bird sitting over fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother bird together with her young. You must surely send the mother bird away and only take the fledglings or the eggs in order that it will go well with you and your days will be lengthened.” (Deuteronomy 22:6-7)
So much has been taught about these two verses. There are only a handful of mitzvot that have any reward mentioned for fulfilling them. And this act, the act of chasing off a bird is so easy to do and poses no financial obstacle. Anyone can chase a bird away without difficulty. And yet, what an amazing reward! Life will go well for us; life will be good, and our days will be lengthened. A very powerful lesson indeed. If this is true for a seemingly small act that requires so little of us, how much the more so for acts that require true thought and real effort!
Sending the mother bird away represents a recognition and concern for the feelings of a mother bird as her young are taken away. It would be cruel to have her see her young being taken. If we are commanded to refrain from cruelty and to be sensitive to the feelings of a mother bird, how much the more so for our fellow humans. Refraining from inflicting pain, being sensitive to one another acknowledging that when it comes to kindness there is no small act, must remind us to take better care of ourselves and each other.
In this time of stress and anxiety, Torah gives us the formula for how to move through it successfully and how we can make life good and lengthen our days. Though it will take more of a concerted effort than chasing away a mother bird, we can treat each other better and make life good. As we are aware of the stress and anxiety that we ourselves feel, let us be guided to be more sensitive to the reality that this is true for everyone in varying degrees.
A kind word, a smile, a pause before reacting cost us nothing and pay off in very big ways. I know that we will emerge from this pandemic. I have faith that humanity will rise to the challenge of climate change. I am energized by the hope that comes with a New Year. May we all work together to ensure it is a good year for all.