The Mother Bird

August 19, 2018

2 min read


Ki Tetzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19 )

"The Mother Bird," 2015, acrylic on canvas, 160 x 120 cm.

When on your way you come across a bird's nest…containing baby birds or eggs, on any tree or on the ground, if the mother is sitting on the chicks or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother along with her young. You shall send away the mother and [then] you may take the young for yourself, in order that it should be good for you and you will live a long life. (Deuteronomy 22:6-7)

In the commandment to send away the mother bird, the Hebrew construction is emphatic: "Send, you shall send away the mother." These verses hint at deeper reservoirs of meaning.

The enigmatic commandment of shiluach haken (sending away the mother bird) has evoked many interpretations and questions. Commentators have wondered why fulfillment of this commandment, like honoring one's parents, is rewarded with the blessing of a long life. One reason given is that the mother is sent away to spare her the pain of seeing her young taken (Ramban). A mystical explanation given by the Zohar is that this commandment has a profound cosmic impact and arouses Divine compassion for the Jewish People. (Tikkunei Zohar 23a).

In the painting, just above a door that symbolizes the release to freedom, we see the purple mother bird set free, flying up into the wine-covered sky, greeted by many hovering white bird shapes. On the bottom of the painting is a large nest tinged with golden hues and filled with golden eggs, suggesting the rich treasury of the Jewish home. The nest itself is shaped like a great bird, perhaps referring to the fact that the ultimate "mother bird," Klal Yisrael, the Community of Israel, remains below, in exile. But the fulfillment of this unique commandment enables the souls of Israel to fly to a higher plane, perhaps to reach the Throne of Glory and evoke compassion.

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