by Rebbetzin Malkah
After G-d's creation was finished at the conclusion of six days, everything was in perfect balance. The seventh day represented the paragon of wholeness. The earth, nature, and humanity were in perfect relationship with their counterparts. When we ate from the Tree of Knowledge in Gan Eden with the wrong intention, we suddenly plunged ourselves into a world where we fail to understand anything in a pure and simple state. There would be no single pure moment or action. There was always a mixture of pain, or suffering, or sorrow which opposed the good in life. We would know the joy of bringing a child into the world, but not without the pain of labor. We would enjoy the fruit of the earth, but not without toil and tremendous work. We would witness a marriage ceremony, but not without the breaking of the glass and remembering our forlorn Jerusalem. We would strive to create the perfect energy source, but always find the means to produce it are far too costly or toxic. Once we were forced to leave Gan Eden, a place of plenty and goodness, we lost the ability to find anything in a pure and simple state.
As we examine this parasha, the mitzvot it mentions thematically speak of refraining from certain combinations in both physical and emotional capacities. These mitzvot cause us to reach for a purer world - a world without corruption or carelessness. They show us how to reach for a world filled with compassion and thoughtfulness. A world in which Mashiach could reside and all creation would be renewed as in the days of Gan Eden.We are instructed that if a woman is captured in battle, she must be taken into the home and her beauty is to be removed. Her hair must be shaved and her nails allowed to grow. In this fashion, any soldier feeling as if he esteemed a prize would be forced to examine his passions as she is physically transformed into someone less desirable. By allowing his wartime emotions to cool, he chooses to marry her not fueled by his passions, but rather with righteous intentions.
In the verses following the laws surrounding the captive woman, the Torah is clear that if a man has two wives, one beloved and the other "hated" (or not loved as much), he must be fair to the wife whom he does not esteem as highly; he must not mix his feelings regarding his unions with both women and treat the firstborn of the "hated" wife with disregard. He is commanded to uphold the rights of the firstborn of the "hated."
How does all of this relate to Hashem's desire to restore wholeness to our lives?
In the beginning of the parasha, a soldier is commanded not to allow his passionate and unchecked emotions to come into a marriage. Such emotions have the ability to encourage multiple marriages, cause distress on the captive woman, and possibly produce a rebellious child due to an unhealthy home. Her captivity coupled with a risky marital union can have repercussions far beyond the boundaries of their union. For this reason, the laws surrounding the captive woman prevent the unhealthy combination of passion and destructive desire in a marriage, protecting future generations and communities from needless suffering. This allows for marriage to be a place of love, safety, and ultimately producing wholesome, holy communities - a clear example of a positive moment in time with no harmful side-effects.
Continuing on in this parasha, we come to the passages regarding the mother bird.
"if a bird's nest happens to be before you on the road, on any tree...and the mother is roosting on the young birds or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. You shall surely send away the mother and take the young for yourself." Devarim 22:6-7.
The reward given if we do this is the same reward as honoring our parents - our days will be prolonged. Why is it critical to take the young without the mother? The answer lies in the nature of emotions surrounding the taking of the young. For the party taking the young from the nest, there is purpose and necessity. Hashem gave the edict that we should rule over the animals. For the mother bird however, as with any creature, seeing her young removed from her midst instinctively causes great suffering. The Torah addresses this action because it has the ability to disrupt the fabric of wholeness of a creature and of all the animal kingdom. While one human benefits, it is not the policy of Torah to allow someone or something else to be disadvantaged.
This is furthered in the next few verses regarding an ox and a donkey, "you shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together." On the surface, the meaning of this prohibits yoking a strong animal with a weaker animal. While some would say without a doubt that an ox is stronger than a donkey, the concept that the donkey is strong in its own right is diminished or even eliminated by such a comparison. Both an ox and a donkey are capable of plowing a field separately and sufficiently. The compassion embedded in this mitzvah is surely to prevent the donkey from plowing with an animal of greater stature and being caused physical or emotional stress; likewise, the ox is protected from taking on the extra strain of plowing the donkey's part. But more than that, this mitzvah helps the owner to recognize the strength and purpose of both the donkey and the ox, not forcing one to be like another by mixing them together. Each creature should be allowed to exist and be accepted for its skills and strengths. Overlooking a creature's characteristics and needs not only produces an end result of overexertion and suffering, but undoubtedly leads to a further lack of consideration in other matters. In this way, the Torah upholds the desire for accomplishment or fulfilling one's desire without side-effect - a system of pure associations so as to avoid any cruelty and harm.
The idea of not placing more on another than they are able to bear and the notion of proper behaviour when performing an action are reiterated by Messiah Yeshua. In Mattityahu 23:4, Yeshua addresses the soferim (scribes) and Perushim (Pharisees) saying,
While we know from the previous paragraph that the ox and the donkey hinder each other if yoked together, apart and in their own respective places they thrive and have the ability to do much. The reality that a leader in any community must handle a larger load of responsibility is obvious - for if it were not so, the leader would not be suitable to lead any group of people. By the same token, the spiritual burdens are different for members of the community and the responsibilities not as great. Returning to Yeshua's statement, is he advocating not following the Torah? With respect to the leaders, he is not advocating in any way that the people should neglect the Torah. However, he is chastising the leaders for expecting the community to uphold the same tremendous loads and responsibilities that they, as leaders, might endeavor to bear, but the community itself could in no way possibly handle without great distress. While our communities benefit greatly from leaders and students conversing, interacting, etc., the latter cannot be expected to handle the exact spiritual burdens of the leader. However, one point Yeshua does seem to drive at is that in no way are the people who do not sit in the leader's places less important; this we can see by his avid defense of the people throughout this chapter.