י״ד במרחשון ה׳תשע״ב (November 11, 2011)

Hullin 138a-b – Sending away the mother bird

The twelfth and final perek (=chapter) of Masechet Hullin begins on today’s daf (=page). Entitled Shilu’ah haKen, its focus is on the commandment forbidding one from taking eggs or chicks while the mother bird is nesting on them (see 22:6-7).
A number of different explanations are offered by the rishonim to explain this mitzvah:
  • In his Moreh Nevukhim, the Rambam suggests that just as we find with regard to the mitzvah of oto ve’et bno (that forbids the slaughter of a mother animal and its child on the same day – see above, daf 78), the Torah teaches that even animals have some level of sensitivity to instinctively be pained if their offspring is killed before them or, in this case, if their offspring are taken from them. This mitzvah comes to save them from this emotional pain.

 

  • The Ramban disagrees, arguing that the Torah is not concerned with the pain of animals, for if it were then the slaughter of animals would be forbidden. Rather the Torah commands these mitzvot in order to inculcate in us sensitivity to others and remove all vestiges of cruelty from those who keep the commandments.

 

  • Another reason is put forward by the Sefer ha-Hinukh, who suggests this mitzvah emphasizes the difference between God’s concern for human beings and His care for animals. While every human being is under God’s constant surveillance, God’s regard for animals is more general – so that the species should not be destroyed. For this reason, individual animals can be slaughtered when necessary, but actions that can be perceived as potential threats to the species – e.g. the slaughter of the mother animal together with her child or taking the mother bird with her eggs or chicks – are forbidden.

 

  • Basing himself on the Zohar, Rabbenu Bahya writes that the fulfillment of this mitzvah evokes the mercy of God on the world.