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First Flight

08/27/2020 11:25:39 AM


At first, I thought it was a chance encounter to see a male and female cardinal outside my kitchen window a few months ago. But as the hours went by and the cardinals lingered, it piqued my interest and I went to investigate their continued presence. It was then that I noticed a baby fledgling in our back-patio. It seemed that the baby bird had fallen from the nest, and was only just stretching out its wings for the first time that very morning. I witnessed its first attempts at flight, as it failed to garner enough energy to fly to the other side of my patio fence. However, I wasn’t the only one watching this amazing feat of nature – for along the fence post stalked a squirrel waiting for the right moment to chance an easy lunch. In that moment, I felt worried that this baby bird might not make it until tomorrow.

This week’s parsha reminded me of this moment from earlier this summer. In Parshat Ki Tetzei, the Torah commands that if you see your fellow’s donkey that has fallen over and is overburdened with its cargo, you are obligated to help your neighbor lift it. This retelling of the law along with its previous expression in Exodus 23:5 serve as the basis for the Jewish laws against causing pain to other creatures, tza’ar ba’alei chaim. We are commanded that we can’t just let an animal suffer and walk on by, but rather must invest the time and energy to assist the animal. While we can debate the experience of suffering for each creature in the animal kingdom, such a discussion misses a key characteristic of this law. This law speaks not only to the experience of the animal, but also to our experience as human beings. What type of creatures are we? What do we do when we comprehend another animal might be in danger or is suffering? 

Nature happens all around us, and surely there are many creatures that are in danger and suffer every day. But when we observe and comprehend such suffering or danger, are we the type of creatures that act on that knowledge and intervene? While it certainly would have been easier to leave that baby bird to the whims of the natural order of things – this Jewish value of assisting animals in danger compelled me to get involved. After chasing away the squirrel, opening the fence gate, and giving the fledgling some space, I observed as the bird successfully flying to a new perch halfway up a bush, then to the fence, and then back to the nearby tree. From there, I presume that the baby cardinal made it back to its nest. And even though that cardinal will never thank me, I feel proud that I helped it along. For the squirrel on the other hand, I hope it found a different way to satiate its hunger. 

Shabbat Shalom

Sun, April 21 2024 13 Nisan 5784