Nelly Shulman
Nelly Shulman

The easiest commandment

The mitzvah, prescribed in Deuteronomy 22: 6-7, “…do not take the mother together with her young”, has been universally acclaimed as one of the easy commandments to perform.

The commentators are falling over each other, insisting on the incredible simplicity of this mitzvah, requiring only one movement since the bird is usually sitting upon the eggs, protecting them with its body. Another common motive in the commentaries is the compassion towards God’s creation which is manifested in the performance of this mitzvah.

As Rabbeinu Bachya writes, quoting Ibn Ezra, “The Torah adds the words: “so that that it will be good for you,” i.e. if you will display concern for the survival of the species of these birds, G’d, in turn, will display His pity for you and will increase your days on earth as compensation for not having wiped out that family of birds.”

There is something fishy going on here. Why are commentators so eager to explain that this is the easiest mitzvah? Why, if it is, indeed, the easiest, such an enormous reward is promised for its fulfillment?

The human being is greedy and insatiable. We always want more and are unable to control ourselves. Who has not been tempted by the 2 for the price of 1 offer in the supermarket? Torah does not shy away from the baseness of human nature. On the contrary, God acknowledges it, promising us a tangible benefit of the long life if our compassion will overcome the greed if the spark of God in us can manifest itself even in the simplest way.

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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