Parshat Ki Teitzet: Please Put Your Shoes Away – August 25, 2023

Deuteronomy 22:6

כִּ֣י יִקָּרֵ֣א קַן־צִפּ֣וֹר ׀ לְפָנֶ֡יךָ בַּדֶּ֜רֶךְ בְּכׇל־עֵ֣ץ ׀ א֣וֹ עַל־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֶפְרֹחִים֙ א֣וֹ בֵיצִ֔ים וְהָאֵ֤ם רֹבֶ֙צֶת֙ עַל־הָֽאֶפְרֹחִ֔ים א֖וֹ עַל־הַבֵּיצִ֑ים לֹא־תִקַּ֥ח הָאֵ֖ם עַל־הַבָּנִֽים׃

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 sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young.

There is a disagreement about the nature of commandments. On the one hand, some claim that each mitzvot has an underlying purpose. Take the commandment stated above. One could say it is about compassion for the mother bird. If we follow this commandment, the bird does not suffer the pain of watching her eggs taken away, and it instills compassion in us. 

On the other hand, some say God’s commandments are beyond reason. We are to keep this mitzvah, and all commandments, because they are the will of our creator. Sure, it happens to be compassionate to shoo the mother bird before taking her eggs, but we do this simply because it is the will of God. Whether or not compassion is involved is immaterial.

I’ve seen this dynamic play out in my home. For a long time, my kids did not understand why we asked them to put away their shoes. We could tell them it was to keep our house in order, or to limit the spread of germs, or to teach them respect for their belongings. When all reasoning failed, we still got them to put away their shoes, but how? We told them we were their parents, and they had to do as we asked. After a while, our kids understood the reason for our request. Still, there are many things we ask them to do for which they can’t see the bigger picture, but I have faith that someday they will. I wonder if God feels the same way. It’s important to look for reasons for keeping mitzvot, but sometimes we find them and sometimes we don’t. When a reason eludes us, it’s not because the commandment doesn’t have the depth of purpose. Maybe we’re still kids, and we’ll understand it when we grow up.