The twelfth and final perek of Massekhet Ḥullin begins on today’s daf. Entitled Shilu’aḥ HaKen, its focus is on the commandment forbidding one from taking eggs or chicks while the mother bird is nesting on them (see Devarim 22:6-7).
A number of different explanations are offered by the rishonim to explain this mitzva:
- In his Moreh Nevukhim, the Rambam suggests that just as we find with regard to the mitzva of oto ve’et beno (see 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 mitzva 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 HaḤinnukh, who suggests this mitzva 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, Rabbeinu Baḥyei writes that the fulfillment of this mitzva evokes the mercy of God on the world.