Tisha B’Av, 2019, I brilliantly decided that 9:40am (I’m not a morning person, so that’s a little early for a day off) would be a great time for a driving lesson. Pinny, my driving teacher, apparently became bored with talking to me, so he decided to call his mom to see how she was doing. He asked about his dad, and then he took care of some more business by calling one of his other students. His student discussed with him how he wanted a double driving lesson, so Pinny proceeded to call three more students to arrange a double lesson for his first student–all of this occurred while I was driving his car. One thing about all of Pinny’s many conversations really struck me–he always started off the conversation by saying either “הי נשמה” (hello soul) or “מה קורה אחי” (what’s up brother). Pinny truly understands and takes to heart the concept that we learn from this week’s parsha that all of Am Yisrael and therefore Midinat Yisrael are made of brothers and sisters.
Parashat Ki Tetze is nearing the end of the Torah as Moshe retells his journey with Bnei Yisrael and is trying to leave us with a final message before we enter Eretz Yisrael and he unfortunately stays behind. According to Rambam’s calculations of the mitzvot, Parshat Ki Tetze has seventy-two mitzvot and is, in fact, the parasha most rich in mitzvot. Our parasha jumps from very practical mitzvot which are more easily understood such as returning a lost item and laws of marriage and relations, to less understood mitzvot such as shooing away the mother bird before taking her eggs. Nechama Leibowitz explains in her book on Sefer Devarim that almost all of our great sages agree that there is a reason for the mitzvot, but none of the sages can agree on the reason for shiluach haken, sending away the mother bird. Nechama Leibowitz also points out that this mitzvah appears to have the same amount of reward as other mitzvot that seem to encompass our lives and be much more timely, such as honoring our parents.
Rav Michael Hattin of Yeshivat Har Etzion brings the Ibn Ezra in Shmot commenting on the prohibition to cook a kid in her mother’s milk by concurring with what Nechama previously mentioned.”There is no need for us to search for the rationale behind this injunction, for even the wise cannot explain it.” The Ibn Ezra then compares the act of shooing away the mother before taking her eggs with the prohibition to cook a kid in her mother’s milk explaining how both of these acts regard the “cruelty of heart.” Nechama Leibowitz brings the Ramban who explains that the main thing that we can take away from this mitzvah isn’t necessarily the practical application of running around looking for birds to send off; rather, we learn the attribute of rachamim (mercy). This Rachamim that we learn in relation to animals can also be applied to our relationships with other people and how the Torah commands us to act favorably towards fellow man.
Six pasukim before shiluach haken, we find the commandment in Devarim 22:1:לֹֽא־תִרְאֶה֩ אֶת־שׁ֨וֹר אָחִ֜יךָ א֤וֹ אֶת־שֵׂיוֹ֙ נִדָּחִ֔ים וְהִתְעַלַּמְתָּ֖ מֵהֶ֑ם הָשֵׁ֥ב תְּשִׁיבֵ֖ם לְאָחִֽיךָ (don’t see the bull of your brother strayed and lost from him and not return it to your brother). This mitzvah greatly contrasts shiluach haken because it has clearly applicable value. It is quite clear that this mitzvah would also apply to a lost phone, pencil, or any belongings of “your brother.” Nechama Leibowitz brings in Rav Moshe Elshich Hakadosh in his commentary “Torah Moshe” who explains that this mitzvah of returning your brother’s lost ox reminds us of the mitzvah “ואהבת לרעך כמוך” (love your fellow as yourself) because we see how loving our fellow applies also to looking out for our brother’s belongings as if they were are own. Later on in Devarim 23:20 we find the line לֹֽא־תַשִּׁ֣יךְ לְאָחִ֔יךָ נֶ֥שֶׁךְ כֶּ֖סֶף נֶ֣שֶׁךְ אֹ֑כֶל נֶ֕שֶׁךְ כָּל־דָּבָ֖ר אֲשֶׁ֥ר יִשָּֽׁךְ (don’t give interest to your brother, money, or food, or any other item where interest is usually taken). This pasuk uses the same word brother to describe a fellow Jew in a very practical mitzvah. The Ramban explains that by living amongst Jews in a world without interest, there will be “חסד באחים לכך”: kindness to your brothers.
The mercy we learn that we show to a mother when taking her eggs is also learned practically by not taking interest from our brothers. These contrasting mitzvot put so close together show the importance of following all of the mitzvot–the ones we do and do not understand, for, as it says following the mitzvah of shilach haken, these mitzvot are untimately for our own good: “ לְמַ֨עַן֙ יִ֣יטַב לָ֔ךְ וְהַֽאֲרַכְתָּ֖ יָמִֽים” (in order that it should be good for you, and you should lengthen your days). The lessons of showing mercy to the bird and considering every other Jew a brother and acting accordingly is something we could always use a reminder for, especially with the modern State of Israel, where nearly everyone you work with and interact is a brother. As Racheli Frenkel, Torah educator and mother of one of the three boys kidnapped the summer of 2014, conveyed in her shiur on Parashat Bamidbar, the hardest part of Bnei Yisrael receiving the Torah and beginning to organize ourselves as a nation isn’t keeping all the mitzvot. Rather, it is learning how to come together with so many personalities and backgrounds to create a functional society and unified people that stands as the hardest task facing Bnei Yisrael. This week’s parasha is a reminder of mitzvot we don’t understand but can be used to teach us valuable lessons; as well as practical mitzvot to help us create this beautiful People we are all so proud to feel a part of. My driving teacher Pinny and many of the residents of Midinat Yisrael truly take to heart the lessons that we learn from these pasukim that we should act towards our fellows with mercy and that Hashem truly uses the word brother to refer to fellow Jews. Bnei Yisrael is a tribe of brothers and sisters.