QUESTION: The Gemara relates that Rav Yehudah bought the products of the dovecote of Levi bar Simon. Shmuel told Rav Yehudah that in order to acquire the eggs, he must shake the nest. The Gemara explains that he had to shake the nest and could not acquire the eggs through a Kinyan Chalifin, because Levi himself had not yet acquired them; the mother bird had been sitting on the eggs from the moment she laid them until Levi sold them, and thus he never acquired them for himself (as Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav rules (141b), one may not acquire the eggs while the mother is sitting on them). Shmuel told him to shake the nest, so that the mother would jump up and Levi would be able to acquire the eggs for himself so that he could transfer ownership to Rav Yehudah (through a normal Kinyan Chalifin).
Shmuel's directive is not clear. Why is one permitted to merely shake the nest in order to take the eggs? One is not permitted to take the eggs until the mother bird is sent away (beyond one's reach), in fulfillment of the Mitzvah of Shilu'ach ha'Ken!
(a) The CHASAM SOFER writes that since Rav Yehudah did not intend to take the eggs at the moment that he shook the nest, but rather to make it possible for Levi to take the eggs, he had no obligation to send away the mother bird. The Chasam Sofer is consistent with his view that there is no obligation to send away the mother bird when one does not want to take the eggs (see Insights to Chulin 139:3). Only the person who wants to take the eggs himself must send away the mother if she is sitting on the eggs. (The CHAZON ISH (175:2) also cites this Gemara as support for the opinion that there is no obligation to send away a mother bird when one does not want the eggs.)
However, others argue with the Chasam Sofer and maintain that there is a Mitzvah to send away the mother bird even when one does not want the eggs. How do they understand the Gemara?
(b) The RIMON PERETZ explains that it is possible to exempt oneself from the obligation to send away the mother bird. By causing the mother bird to raise herself from the eggs so that she is hovering over the nest, one removes the obligation of Shilu'ach ha'Ken (as the Gemara teaches on 139b, one is not obligated to send away a mother bird that is hovering over the nest). This is similar to one who takes a four-cornered garment (on which one is obligated to place Tzitzis) and rounds out one of the corners, exempting the garment from the obligation of Tzitzis.
Why, though, would a G-d-fearing person like Rav Yehudah want to absolve himself from the obligation to perform a Mitzvah, and why would Shmuel advise him to do such a thing?
The Rimon Peretz explains that Rav Yehudah saw that Levi bar Shimon wanted to acquire the bird and the eggs for himself. Thus, if Rav Yehudah would have sent away the mother bird, he would have transgressed the principle of "Darchei Shalom" (141b). For this reason, Rav Yehudah turned the situation into one in which there was no Mitzvah for him to send away the mother bird, allowing Levi bar Simon to acquire the eggs. (Mordechai Zvi Dicker)
Rebbi Yakov teaches that when the Torah promises "long life" to the one who fulfills the Mitzvah of Shilu'ach ha'Ken, it refers to eternal life in Olam ha'Ba, and not necessarily to life in this world. The Gemara says further that the reward for Mitzvos is given in the World to Come and not in this world.
In order to prove this, the Gemara relates that it happened once that a man told his son to send away a mother bird and bring him the chicks. While the son was descending from the tree after sending away the mother bird and fulfilling both the Mitzvah of Shilu'ach ha'Ken and the Mitzvah of Kibud Av (the two Mitzvos for which the Torah explicitly writes that one is rewarded with long life), he fell to his death. The combined merit of both Mitzvos did not lengthen his life in this world. It must be that the reward of long life is long life in Olam ha'Ba.
The Gemara may have a deeper intent in relating that the son fulfilled these two Mitzvos, the Mitzvah of Shilu'ach ha'Ken and the Mitzvah of Kibud Av. The VILNA GA'ON (as cited in Insights to Chulin 138:5) explains that these two Mitzvos address opposite character traits that are found in different types of people. There are people who are instinctively inclined to perform kindness. For those people, honoring parents is a natural instinct. Those people would find it difficult to perform an act that seems so cruel, like Shilu'ach ha'Ken. Conversely, there are people who do not naturally possess the characteristic of kindness. For them, the Mitzvah of Kibud Av va'Em may be difficult to perform, while they may perform Shilu'ach ha'Ken without hesitation. Since the Mitzvos were given equally to all men, regardless of their individual dispositions, the Torah promises the same reward for the Mitzvos of Kibud Av va'Em and Shilu'ach ha'Ken. The Torah is teaching that our performance of the Mitzvos should not be based on our personal feelings toward the Mitzvah, but rather on the fact that Hash-m commanded us to do it. We are rewarded for obeying Hash-m, and not for acting in accordance with our logic and personal inclinations. Accordingly, we can understand why the Mitzvah of Kibud Av va'Em and Shilu'ach ha'Ken have the same reward. They share a common purpose: to demonstrate an absolute adherence to carrying out the will of Hash-m.
One who is merciful might not be a Tzadik; he acts mercifully only because that is his nature. Only when one overcomes his natural tendencies in order to serve Hash-m can he be considered a Tzadik. When a person performs with equal devotion both the Mitzvos that demonstrate cruelty, such as sending away the mother bird, and the Mitzvos that demonstrate compassion, such as honoring one's parents, it is evident that he is a Tzadik, and he is the one whom the Torah blesses with long life in the World to Come.
The Gemara at the end of Chulin cites the Beraisa of Rebbi Yakov who teaches that when the Torah promises "long life" to the one who fulfills the Mitzvah of Shilu'ach ha'Ken, it refers to eternal life in Olam ha'Ba, and not necessarily to life in this world.
According to Rebbi Yakov, the Torah's directive for how one is to treat the mother bird is clearly not intended merely for the animal's well-being, but it is for our well-being and ultimate reward. Hash-m put animals into this world not merely for us to care for, but in order to enable us to refine and perfect ourselves in this world (as the RAMBAN writes in Devarim 22:6, citing the Midrash in Bereishis Rabah 44:1; see Insights to Chulin 138:4). The animals, in that sense, were put into the world to care for us.
The Mitzvah of Shilu'ach ha'Ken, and the Mitzvah of Shechitah as well (in addition to the Mitzvah to lift the heavy burden off of an animal that has fallen down, the prohibition against muzzling an animal to prevent it from eating while working, the Mitzvah to let one's animal rest from work on Shabbos, the prohibition against working two different types of animals together, the requirement to feed one's animals first before one eats for himself, and Tza'ar Ba'alei Chayim), were given not out of mercy for the animals, but in order to teach man to act mercifully. When a person inculcates the trait of mercy into his character through the fulfillment of the Mitzvah of Shilu'ach ha'Ken, he emulates the ways of Hash-m and is guaranteed eternal life in the World to Come.
Accordingly, we can understand the words at the beginning of Chulin (2a) in a similar manner. The Mishnah begins, "ha'Kol Shochtim," which the Gemara (2a) interprets to mean, "All are permitted to slaughter l'Chatchilah." The Gemara may be understood to be saying that we may slaughter animals l'Chatchilah, and we do not need to refrain from eating meat out of mercy for the animal. Animals were put into the world to serve us, and that is how they fulfill their purpose in the world (Ramban ibid., Bava Metzia 85a).
As we proceed to Maseches Bechoros, we find that Bechoros begins with the laws of Pidyon Peter Chamor, redeeming a firstborn donkey, and not with the laws of Bechor Behemah Tehorah, the firstborn calf of a Kosher animal. The Gemara in Bechoros (13a) explains that the reason why the Tana begins with the laws of Pidyon Peter Chamor is that he cherishes Rebbi Chanina's teaching (5b): "Why does the Torah obligate us to redeem only the firstborn of donkeys, and not the firstborn of all other non-Kosher animals?... It is because donkeys assisted the Jews when they left Mitzrayim" (Bechoros 5b).
When an animal assists a Jew to perform Mitzvos and to serve Hash-m, it fulfills its purpose in being created. To demonstrate this point, the Torah elevated a donkey's status, granting it the holiness of Bechorah which non-Kosher animals normally do not have, and making it an integral part of a Mitzvah of the Torah as reward for assisting the Jews in serving Hash-m. (See also RASHI to Shemos 22:30.) (M. KORNFELD)
May Hash-m help us use all that He has given us in this world to serve Him properly and to glorify His holy Name in this world!