Shiluach Haken as the source for Wildlife Preservation

Dr. Joseph Frager,

לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7
Dr. Joseph Frager
The writer is a leading American pro-Israel activist who sponsors and coordinates many Zionist events. He is clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine (Gastroenterology & Liver Diseases) at the Einstein School of Medicine as well as a practicing physician.

"When a bird's nest happens to be before you on the road, on any tree or on the ground-young birds or eggs-and the mother is roosting on the young birds or on the eggs you shall not take the mother with the young for yourself, so that it will be good for you and you will prolong your days."(Parshat Ki Teitsei: 22:6-7)

The subject of Shiluach Haken may well be one of the most discussed and analyzed in the entire Torah. Rashi says, "If, with an easily fulfilled Mitzvah involving no financial loss, the Torah declares, "so that you will benefit and live long" then certainly with the reward for the difficult commandments." The Ramban states, "This too, is an elaborated (MItzvah Mevoeret) commandment being an extension of the commandment, "But an ox or a sheep you may not slaughter it and its offspring on the same day" (Vayikra 22:28) for the reason for both commandments is that we should not have a cruel heart and lack compassion."

The Ramban goes further and says that "alternatively the common rationale for the commandments is that sc‎ripture does not permit us to do an act of large scale destruction that might lead to the uprooting of an entire species."  The Ramban quotes the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim (3:48). The Commandment "is in order to ensure that we not slaughter the offspring in the presence of the mother for animals have great anguish over this." Interestingly, when the Rambam writes about the Mitzvah of Shiluach Haken in his commentary on the Mishnah(Berachot 5:3) he shies away from using any kind of reasoning or rationale for the Mitzvah.

The Rambam says, "The issue of saying "Your Mercy extends upon the nest of a bird" concerns the notion that just as G-d has compassion on the nest of a bird, instructing us not to take the mother with her young, so too He should have compassion upon us. One who says this is to be silenced since he is saying that the reason for this commandment is G-d's mercy on birds." The Rambam goes further and says, "for were it a matter of mercy, he would not have allowed slaughtering animals at all: rather this is an accepted commandment without a reason being given," The Rambam appears to be contradictory.

The Rambam clearly believes that there can be and there are reasons for G-d's Commandments. The answer is given by my ancestor the Tosafot Yom Tov  (my family at his request celebrated his release from prison on trumped up charges for 300 years (the first of Adar)). The Tosafot Yom Tov says reasons for commandments can be used for Drash and Pshat. Hence it was acceptable for the Rambam to give reasons in the Moreh Nevuchim. Those reasons should not be used in one's Tefilla. I would add, and I believe the Tosafot Yom Tov is saying that even though reasons exist for Commandments one should not use them for Halakha.

The Ramban makes his opinion clear on the subject and states emphatically: "Now this idea that the Rambam asserted regarding the Commandments, viz. that they do have a reason is a very clear matter for indeed every one of the Commandments has a reason as well as a usefulness and benefit for man besides the reward that one receives for fulfilling them which will come from the One who commanded them, may He be blessed."  Using this approach we can now apply the lessons of Shiluach haKen to the modern age. Not only are we commanded to protect Human Life but but we are commanded to preserve the Animal Kingdom.

Not only does the Ramban mention Shiluach HaKen in reference to "uprooting of an entire species " but so too does the Ralbag, Rabbeinu Bachya Ben Asher, the Sefer HaChinuch and the Abarbanel. Clearly "Wildlife Conservation" is a very old concept in Judaism. Tom Friedman who I regularly strongly and vociferously disagree with on Israel and Politics happens to have written an article on Wildlife Preservation entitled, "We Are All Noah Now" that is generally praiseworthy.

He writes that "the African elephant population is in drastic decline having shrunk about 30% from 2007 to 2014...The deterioration is accelerating: Largely because of poaching, the population is dropping 8% a year according to the Great Elephant Census." A Biodiversity expert E.O. Wilson said "Half of the species described today will be gone by the end of the century, unless we take drastic action." The Mitzvah of Shiluach HaKen makes it imperative upon us all to make sure this does not happen.