Behind the tough-guy bravado and the stone-faced expressions that many people wear, we find vulnerable people, humans with battles, insecurities, struggles, and brokenness. There are many times in our lives when we grossly overlook the humanity and connection we share with other people. Often without intention, people diminish their compassions and sensitivities, creating a pathway for more pain and hurting to enter the world. This, however, is an issue that we must take seriously and not overlook, as we find in Parshat Ki Teitzei.
Early in the parsha, the Torah describes an unusual scenario and prescribes a puzzling mitzvah: “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. Send away the mother and take only the young, in order that it should be good for you and you should have a long life” (Devarim 22:6-7).
Many questions arise from this oddity: Why are we sending away the mother bird? How will that be good for us? What is the Torah trying to tell us? Rav Kook provides a thought-provoking take on this mitzvah and its implications.
In his essay “Chatzon Hatzimchonut v’Hashalom,” which was compiled by “The Nazir,” Rav Kook discusses the spiritual sensitivity the Torah wants us to have toward animals. Writing on the above mitzvah and shechting (slaughtering) an animal, Rav Kook says: “This is a living and feeling creature, and a person needs to be sensitive to its feelings and emotions. One even needs to be aware of the feelings of this animal’s family and the compassion it has on its offspring. This is the reason behind… the commandment of chasing away a mother bird before taking its eggs. The godly wisdom behind the mitzvot is that they will bring with them a greater enlightenment in its appropriate time.”
The Torah is not some book of rules that we are arbitrarily told to obey. Rather, the Torah is the formula for the Jewish People to become self-aware and bring greater God-consciousness in the world, through vehicles such as peace, justice, and love. In the case of the mother bird, the Torah is seeking to draw out the deep, spiritual sensitivity to animals. By shooing away the mother bird before taking her eggs, we make kindness and empathy manifest in this world.
It goes without saying that this sensitivity must be expressed first and foremost to other humans. The case of the mother bird is tied to the universality of empathy, as Rav Kook identifies this to be a byproduct of living a life that’s truly in touch with Hashem. He writes, “The more one is connected to God, the greater one’s compassion and honesty; it will lead to greater individual and social well-being” (Igrot Hareiyah 1, p. 218).
Our world is in desperate need of more love and more compassion. People are hurting, and we need to be able to open our ears and our hearts to hear their pain. The mitzvah of the mother bird is the Torah telling us something important: We need to re-sensitize ourselves, to think before we speak, love before we critique, and understand before we judge.
 As translated by Rabbi Ari Ze’ev Schwartz in “The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook,” p. 191
 Ibid. p. 116