If a bird’s nest happens to be before you on the road, on any tree, or on the ground—young birds or eggs—and the mother is roosting on the young birds or the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. You shall surely send away the mother and take the young for yourself, so that it will be good for you and will prolong your days.
This passage is one of 18 laws concerning the protecting of animals in the Bible. Among others, the Bible instructs us not to boil a kid in its mother’s milk (which has evolved over time into the Jewish concept of kashrut, a system in which meat and milk are not to be eaten together at all), not to kill a mother and her offspring on the same day, and to help lift up an animal that may have collapsed from exhaustion on the road.
Although humans are given dominion over the animals in Genesis, we’re also given the responsibility to care for and treat them as fellow creations of God. This tension between our accountability toward animals and our power over them is the source of many difficult questions. But what’s clear from this passage is that we must first and foremost be sensitive to the nature of those that are consumed or otherwise used for our purposes.
By sending away the mother bird before taking her eggs or chicks, we accomplish several things: (1) We take into consideration the fact that animals are attached to their young and will suffer if they’re separated from them—so by sending the bird away, she won’t see her eggs taken, and the blow will be softened; (2) by not taking the bird along with her eggs as food, we help to preserve the species, ensuring that the breeding animal survives (environmentalists call this “sustainability”); (3) by exerting our responsibility toward animals before our power over them, we remind ourselves what’s more important; and (4) we set an example of compassion for our own lives.
Now if sending away the mother bird is so important that it will lead to a long life for the one who performs the deed, just think how important it is to treat other people with such sensitivity. The emotional, practical, philosophical, and personal implications of this commandment are stunning: In performing (or merely understanding) such a small act, we can help ease the pain of the world, preserve the earth, put our power into place, and deepen our capacity for compassion and kindness to others.
The Kuf is first and foremost a letter of kedusha, holiness. The verb lekadesh means “to sanctify” or “make holy,” suggesting that holiness is something to be actively achieved.
Look at how the letter itself is shaped: The character reaches down below the line as if descending into the “lower world” of earth from the “higher world” of spirituality. This teaches us that we can sanctify our lives, and infuse our existence with meaning and purpose, by seeking to elevate our daily actions and by having the consciousness of a higher purpose behind everything we do.
The Kuf card is a signal of compassion. Look beyond the surface of your actions and consider the fact that as humans, we’re not all that matters in this world. The principle of kindness to animals teaches us the great lesson of being kind to everyone, from helpless infants to victims of crime to homeless families to the elderly.
Take a moment to envision the mother bird and her eggs. Put yourself in her position and consider her animal perspective. Now use your gift of human reasoning and power to perform an act of holiness.