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Ki Teitzei: The Bird’s Nest

Updated: 7 days ago

Qan HaTzippor

Parashat Ki Teitzei (Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19) contains what is said to be the least important mitzvah, or commandment, in the entire Torah,

“If a bird’s nest (קַן־צִפֹּור) chance to be before you in the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the mother sitting on the young, or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young: you shall surely let the mother go, but the young you may take to yourself, that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days.” Deuteronomy 22:6-7

The Midrash Tanchuma states,

“There is no easier mitzvah [to perform] than sending away the mother bird from the nest. And what is its reward? ‘So that you will benefit and you will live long.” Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Teitze, Rosenwald Edition, translated by Avrohom Davis, Volume 8, Eastern Book Press, pg. 218

This is one of the few mitzvot whose reward is specified, which is the equivalent reward of honoring one’s parents. Pirkei Avot says,

“Be careful with a light mitzvah as to a grave one, as you do not know the assigned reward of the mitzvot.” Pirkei Avot 2:1

Yeshua emphasizes that all the commandments in the Torah are critically important, even the ‘lesser’ ones,

“Whoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and teach others to do so, shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whoever shall do and teach them shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:19

The Maharal, R’ Yehudah Lowe ben Bezalel of Prague (1512 – 1609 CE), comments,

“When the mother bird is sent away, the settlement of the world is preserved, for the nest is not destroyed and the mother can start over. By contributing to the eternity of existence, an individual cleaves to the good, which is long life [in the World to Come.] The same applies to parental honor…” Maharal, Lion Cub of Prague, Gur Arye, translated by Moshe David Kuhr, Gefen Publishing House, Volume III, pg. 152

The Sforno, R’ Ovadya ben Yaakov Sforno (1475-1550CE) writes,

“Behold, by sending away (the mother bird) from the nest, one performs an act of lovingkindness benefiting the masses, (namely) the preservation of the birds of the field who are ownerless property.” Sforno, Devarim 22, Mesorah Publications, ltd., pg. 937

R’ Moshe Alshich also highlights the point that the bird and her chicks are “ownerless.” Therefore, we would be within our rights to take both the mother and the chicks. However, the Torah requires that one restrain himself in this matter, for the good of all creation. The Ramban, R’ Moshe ben Nachman, comments the reason for this mitzvah is “that we should not have a cruel heart and be discompassionate.” He explains that one who takes both the mother and the chicks is equivalent to one who destroys a species. R’ Bachya ben Asher agrees and highlights the connection to the commandment not to slaughter a mother animal and its offspring on the same day (Leviticus 22:25). Rambam, R’ Moshe ben Maimon, comments that the mother-bird would suffer if she saw her chicks being taken away.

The Torah’s concern for “the least of these” is remarkable. By a kal v’chomer argument, if one should be compassionate to a bird, how much more should he be compassionate to his fellow human! If one is faithful on a small scale, he will be faithful on a larger scale. Yeshua emphasizes HaShem’s compassion for humans, by highlighting his care for little sparrows,

“Aren’t two sparrows sold for an assarion coin? Not one of them falls on the ground apart from your Father’s will, but the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore don’t be afraid. You are of more value than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31

This commandment of compassion is even explained as being connected to bringing Eliyahu HaNavi and the Messiah himself. The Midrash Rabbah comments,

“YOU SHALL LET THE BIRD GO. The Rabbis said: If you have fulfilled the precept of letting the bird go you will merit also to fulfill the precept of letting go free the Hebrew slave. Whence this? For it is said, “And when you let him go free from you (Deut. 15:13). Another explanation…If you will fulfill this precept you will hasten thereby the coming of King Messiah, of whom Scripture uses the expression shiluach (sending free), as it is said, “That send forth freely the feet of the ox and the donkey” (Isa. 32:20). Another comment: R. Tanhuma said: If you fulfill this precept you will hasten the coming of Elijah the prophet, of blessed memory, of whom Scripture uses the expression, ‘shiluach,’ as it is said, “Behold, I will send  (sholeach) you Elijah the prophet” (Mal. 3:23); and he will come and comfort you. From where is this derived? For it is said, ‘And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children (ib. 24).’ Deuteronomy Rabbah 6:7, Soncino Press Edition

R’ Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev (1740 – 1809 CE) retells a beautiful allegory of our passage,

“Turey Zahav…writes that it is up to us to “awaken the morning and not wait for the morning to awaken us.” This thought is alluded to in our verse above when the Torah speaks of “morning,” i.e. the word צפור in Aramaic is צפרא “brightness, morning.” If we were to translate this verse allegorically, it would go something like this: “when you experience spiritual awakening, brightness, indicating that G’d has paved the way for you to acquire insights, insights which reveal to you something about a world beyond our physical world, you will perform good deeds and study Torah in order to qualify for eventual membership in the society inhabiting that world.” R’ Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, Kedushat Levi, Ki Teytze, translated by R’ Eliyahu Munk, pg. 764 

The Palace of Messiah

Based on this passage, an incredible narrative is woven in the Zohar about the “Bird’s Nest” which is a term for the Heavenly Palace of the Messiah. The Zohar paints this incredible picture,

בְּהַהוּא זִמְנָא, יִתְּעַר מַלְכָּא מְשִׁיחָא, לְנַפְקָא מִגּוֹ גִּנְתָּא דְּעֵדֶן, מֵהַהוּא אֲתָר דְּאִתְקְרֵי קַ”ן צִפּוֹ”ר, וְיִתְּעָר בְּאַרְעָא דְּגָלִיל זוהר, שמות

“Then the Messiah will arise from the Garden of Eden, from that place which is called ‘The Bird’s Nest’. He will arise in the land of Galilee, and on that day the whole world shall be shaken and all the children of men shall seek refuge in caves and rocky places. Concerning that time it is written: ‘And they shall go into the holes of the rocks and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord and for the glory of his majesty, when he arises to shake terribly the earth’ (Isa. 2:19). ‘The glory of his majesty’ refers to the Messiah when he shall reveal himself in the land of Galilee; for in this part of the Holy Land the desolation first began, and therefore he will manifest himself there first, and from there begin to war against the world. After the forty days, during which the pillar shall have stood between heaven and earth before the eyes of the whole world, and the Messiah shall have manifested himself, a star shall come forth from the East variegated in hue and shining brilliantly, and seven other stars shall surround it, and make war on it from all sides, three times a day for seventy days, before the eyes of the whole world. . . the Messiah shall be hidden for twelve months in the pillar of fire, which shall return again, although it shall not be visible. After the twelve months the Messiah will be carried up to heaven in that pillar of fire and receive there power and dominion and the royal crown. When he descends, the pillar of fire will again be visible to the eyes of the world, and the Messiah will reveal himself, and mighty nations will gather round him, and he shall declare war against all the world. At that time the Holy One shall show forth his power before all the nations of the earth, and the Messiah shall be manifested throughout the whole universe, and all the kings will unite to fight against him, and even in Israel there will be found some wicked ones who shall join them in the fight against the Messiah.” Zohar 2:8a-b, Soncino Press Edition

R’ Chaim Vital, the disciple of R’ Yitzhak Luria, comments,

“Just as we find that Moshe Rabbeinu ascended to heaven, body and soul, and remained there for forty days…similarly, Moshiach will, through the help of the Almighty, merit to attain that lofty soul. He will then realize that he is in fact Moshiach, although no one else will be aware of this. This is the secret to which the Zohar alludes, ‘Moshiach will be revealed, yet no one will perceive him. Shortly afterwards, Moshiach will be hidden away, body and soul, in that Divine pillar [the spiritual incubation of this sublime soul]…Moshiach will thereupon rise up to heaven just as Moshe ascended the firmament, and will subsequently [return] and be revealed completely for all to see. The entire Jewish people will perceive him and flock to him.” R’ Chaim Vital, Arba Mei’os Shekel Kesef, pg. 68, cited in And He Will Redeem Us, Mendelsohn Press pg. 134, cf. Sha’ar Hagilgulim ch 13

Returning to the Zohar, it continues its beautiful passage,

“This passage’, he said, ‘we interpret as an esoteric commandment in the Law, containing mysteries of doctrine, paths and ways known to the Fellowship and belonging to the thirty-two paths of the Torah.’ Then, turning to R. Eleazar, his son, he said: ‘At the time when the Messiah shall arise, there will be great wonders in the world. See now, in the lower Paradise there is a secret and unknown spot, embroidered with many colors, in which a thousand palaces of longing are concealed. No one may enter it, except the Messiah, whose abode is in Paradise. The Garden is encompassed with multitudes of saints who look to the Messiah as their leader, along with many hosts and bands of the souls of the righteous there. On New Moons, festivals, and Sabbaths, he enters that place, in order to find joyous delight in those secret palaces. Behind those palaces there is another place, entirely hidden and undiscoverable. It is called ‘Eden’, and no one may enter to behold it. Now the Messiah is hidden in its outskirts until a place is revealed to him which is called ‘the Bird’s Nest’. This is the place proclaimed by that Bird (the Shekinah) which flies about the Garden of Eden every day…The Messiah enters that abode, lifts up his eyes and beholds the Fathers (Patriarchs) visiting the ruins of God’s Sanctuary. He perceives mother Rachel, with tears upon her face; the Holy One, blessed be He, tries to comfort her, but she refuses to be comforted (Jer. 31:14). Then the Messiah lifts up his voice and weeps, and the whole Garden of Eden quakes, and all the righteous and saints who are there break out in crying and lamentation with him. When the crying and weeping resound for the second time, the whole firmament above the Garden begins to shake, and the cry echoes from five hundred myriads of supernal hosts, until it reaches the highest Throne. Then the Holy One, blessed be He, beckons to that ‘Bird’, which then enters its nest and comes to the Messiah, and flits about, uttering strange cries. Then from the holy Throne the Bird’s Nest and the Messiah are summoned three times, and they both ascend into the heavenly places, and the Holy One swears to them to destroy the wicked kingdom (Rome) by the hand of the Messiah, to avenge Israel, and to give her all the good things which he has promised her. Then the Bird returns to her place. The Messiah, however, is hidden again in the same place as before.” Zohar 2:8a-b, Soncino Press Edition

R' Ignaz Lichtenstein
R’ Ignaz (Yitzhak) Lichtenstein (1824 – 1908 CE)

Recapping a few of these amazing passages from the Zohar and commentary of R’ Vital, we learn that:

  1. A Star in the East shines to the world, heralding the Messiah

  2. When the Messiah comes at first, no one, not even his own family, will recognize him 

  3. The Messiah is revealed in the Land of Galilee

  4. The Messiah will be concealed

  5. The Messiah will ascend to heaven to receive power, glory and HaShem’s crown

  6. The Messiah descends and returns

  7. All the kings of the earth come to fight against him

For those unfamiliar with the New Testament, all of these elements are present in its pages. As R’ Yitzhak Lichtenstein once said when he began to read the New Testament,

“I looked for thorns and gathered roses.” R’ Yitzhak Lichtenstein

Gathering the Chicks

Tikkuney Zohar 12b says that the “bird’s nest” refers to the exile of the Shekhinah, or Divine Presence. R’ Bachya ben Asher, known as Rabbeinu Bachaye (1255-1340CE) describes that the word “mother” as,

“…a reference to the emanation Binah, the source from which the lower seven emanations derive their spiritual input in every seven year shemittah cycle to renew the face of the earth. The earth is the Qan HaOlam, the Nest of the World. It is known as the Im HaOlam, “Mother of the World” like the “mother bird” seeing it hatches all creatures.” R’ Bachya ben Asher on Deuteronomy, translated by R’ Eliyahu Munk, Lambda Publishers, Volume 7, pg. 2631 – 2632

Rebbe Nachman echoes this concept,

“Ha-EiM (the mother) alludes to Binah – which corresponds to IMma (mother) – and the Upper Sefirot.” Rebbe Nachman’s Torah, Volume III, Breslov Research Institute, pg.

There is a Chassidic Story that is related about the Rabbi of Lublin,

“They asked the Rabbi of Lublin: “Why is it that in the holy Book of Splendor, the turning to God which corresponds to the emanation ‘understanding’ is called ‘Mother’? He explained: “when a man confesses and repents, when his heart accepts Understanding and is converted to it, he becomes like a new-born child, and his own turning to God is his mother.” Tales of the Hasidim, Early Masters, Martin Buber, Schocken Books, pg. 314

Yeshua explained in the Gospel of John,

“Amein, I tell you, unless one is born of water and spirit, he can’t enter into the Kingdom of God! That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ John 3:5-7

While it is beyond the scope of this article, this statement links the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit, to the Partzuf of ‘Upper Mother’ (Imma Ila’a) from whom souls are born from above, becoming new creations. Regarding the Partzuf of the ‘Lower Mother/Daughter‘ (Imma HaTata’ah). This is mentioned in Revelation 12:1-6, 21:2. While this explanation is insufficient, the wise will understand. The Ben Ish Chai comments on the passage,

“ (on the road) to mean that this will depend on making teshuva (repentance) which is also called “דרך derekh”, as our Rabbis of blessed memory explained in Midrash Yalkut Shimoni regarding Tehillim 25:8 (He instructs sinners in the way) and we know that teshuva will hasten the geulah. בכל עץ (on all trees) as a remez to the Torah, which can bring about the geulah. . . We also know that the Torah is called “עץ” (tree) as we saw in Mishli 3:18 (it is a tree of life to those who take hold unto it).  האם רבצת (and the mother is sitting) to mean that we should not underestimate the value of these two tikunim, since the mother is a remez to the Shechinah which is “רבצת” sitting in galut (exile). . .” Ben Ish Chai, Aderet Eliyahu, translated by Rav Eliyahu Nissim Atias, Volume 2, pgs. 737 – 738

In a jaw-dropping statement, Yeshua heartbroken, speaks to Jerusalem,

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets, and stones those who are sent to her! How often I would have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you would not!” Matthew 23:37

Rebbe Nachman comments,

“The “chicks and eggs” represent souls that are weak and require the nurturing protection of “the mother bird” – i.e. the tzaddik.” Rebbe Nachman’s Torah, Volume III, Breslov Research Institute, pg. 310

On this level, Rebbe Nachman explains that ‘keeping the chicks’ refers to ‘elevating lost souls’ who are weak, and have “descended into the degradations and humiliations of this long exile” and require the nurturing of the Tzaddik. The Tzaddik is concealed in the Qan Tzippor, the Bird’s Nest, awaiting for Israel to be ready. Incredibly, the word “Tzippor” bird spelled in its full form is equivalent to the value of YESHUA:

ציפור = ישוע = 386

There is a beautiful story of the Baal Shem Tov, as retold by Howard Schwartz, which is as follows,

“The Baal Shem Tov was once praying with his Hasidim. That day he prayed with great concentration, not only word by word, but letter by letter, so that the others finished long before he did. At first they waited for him, but before long, they lost patience and one by one they left.” Later the Baal Shem Tov came to them and said: While I was praying, I ascended the ladder of your prayers all the way into Paradise. As I ascended, I heard a song of indescribable beauty. At last I reached the palace of the Messiah, in the highest heavens, known as the Bird’s Nest. The Messiah was standing by his window peering out at a tree of great beauty.“…I followed his gaze and saw that his eyes were fixed on a golden dove, whose nest was in the top branches of that tree. That is when I realized that the song pervading all of Paradise was coming from that golden dove. And I understood that the Messiah could not bear to be without that dove and its song for as much as a moment. Then it occurred to me that if I could capture the dove, and bring it back to this world, the Messiah would be sure to follow. So I ascended higher, until I was within arm’s reach of the golden dove. But just as I reached for it, the ladder of prayers collapsed.” Tree of Souls, The Ladder of Prayers, Howard Schwartz, Oxford University Press, pg. 490

The redemption is dependent upon Israel, if they ‘hear his voice.’ The book Tomer Devorah of the Ramak, R’ Moshe Cordevero (1522–1570CE), says,

כצִיפר נודדת מִן קנה ־ שהִיא השכינה , כן אִיש נודד מִמקוֹמוֹ, ונטיר לה, ואומי דלא יתיב לאתריה עד דיחזיר לה לאתרה (זוה”ק תצא דף רעה). הנה גם הוא מחֹלל מפשעינו מדכא לרצונו מעונותינו ורפואת שניהם בידינו רבי משה קורדובירו, תומר דבורה, פרק ה

“Like a bird who wanders from her nest” – [the “bird”] referring to the Shechinah, “so is a man (referring to HaShem) who wanders from his place” (Mishlei 27:8). He (HaShem) waits for Her (the Shechinah) and swears that He will not return to His place until He returns Her to Her place (Zohar Saitzei 278a). Thus, He, too, is ill because of our transgressions, crushed willingly because of our iniquities. The healing of both is in our hands.” Tomer Devorah, Chapter 5, 21st of Month, Tomer Publications, pg. 54

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