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The Parent Trap: Falling Prey To Those We Love
Video 2 of 4
What I'm really suggesting is that there is a law here condensed into just two verses that is actually going to transform the way you look at a story earlier in the Torah. And what's strange about that, I think, is that if you think about the Torah as a whole, everybody knows that it's really composed of two different things; which is laws and stories. And for the most part you think of the laws and stories as two separate things; a whole bunch of stories, a whole bunch of laws, not quite sure why we all have to throw it together but that's the way it is. But what might actually be the case is that the laws and the stories are very, very closely connected, almost as if the laws that G-d gives us in the Torah are responses to our particular history. Things that have gone well in our history get reinforced by laws that are G-d's way of saying yeah, that was actually good what you guys went through, try to do more of that. And when things went badly in our history, law then comes and sometimes tries to correct that; when a situation like this comes up try to do it a little bit differently next time.
So I think this kind of relationship between law and story in the Torah can really be found all over the place throughout the Five Books of Moses if you look carefully, and the law of the mother bird is one really good example. This law of the mother bird it's based on a story, a story all the way back in the Book of Genesis - at least that's my contention. But where am I getting that contention from? Why would you even believe such a thing? You'd believe it because the language of the law is cluing you in to that conclusion. Let me show you what I mean.
Listen one more time to the language of the mother bird law. When you see a mother bird hovering over its chicks; Loh tikach ha'eim al ha'banim - do not take the mother upon the children. Now if you recall, that's the phrase that we actually analyzed, spent a lot of time with, last video, but that actual phrase, turns out, appears somewhere earlier in the Torah. Only one other time earlier in the Torah; Eim al ha'banim. Where is the other time that phrase appears? In turns out it appears in the context of the Yaakov and Eisav story - Jacob and Esau. At the very end of that long, protracted story, finally when Yaakov hasn't seen his brother Eisav for 20 long years, just before they're about to have a fateful rendezvous, Yaakov uses that phrase; Eim al ha'banim - mother upon children, in a prayer to G-d. Let's listen in.
Hatzileini nah miyad achi miyad Eisav - Yaakov says, save me please from my brother, from Eisav, who is coming to greet Yaakov, so to speak, but with 400 men ominously. Yaakov continues and says; Ki yarei onochi oto - I'm afraid of him; Pen yovo v'hikani eim al banim - lest he come and strike me, mother upon children. The only other time that phrase appears is in the story of the mother bird.
And now here's the question we face, is that a coincidence? Or, is the Torah intending to signal a connection between this element of the Yaakov and Eisav narrative in the story of the mother bird? How would you know that it's not just sort of happenstance that the words just happen to appear here and there? You'd know it if there are other connections between this encounter between Yaakov and Eisav and the story of the mother bird, and as it happens there are.
Go back to the reward that is promised the one who properly observes the Mitzvah of sending away the mother bird. He's told that he'll receive long life and specifically; Lema'an yitav lach - so that things will go well with you; V'ha'arachta yamim - and you'll have long life. Well remember those words; Lema'an yitav lach, and now come back to the encounter between Yaakov and Eisav when Yaakov is praying to G-d. Right after he says I'm afraid G-d lest my brother strike me, mother upon child, the very next thing that Yaakov says is; V'atah amarta - and You said G-d; Heitev eitiv imoch - that things would go well for me. That You would be good to me. It's the same language as the mother bird. Heitev eitiv imoch, clearly recalls; Lema'an yitav lach, the reward of the mother bird.
So this seems - at least to me - like too much to be a coincidence. It's kind of like the when-lightning-strikes-twice effect. You know imagine your neighbor Bob, nice fellow, car mechanic, one day he wins the lottery. I mean what are the odds? It's like six million to one. Okay, but it's a coincidence, somebody has to got to win the lottery, so it doesn't mean that Bob had any foul play or anything. But imagine the very next day he wins the very same lottery, like two days in a row, six million to one, in each case. You know at that point you start to wonder whether this isn't quite a coincidence, whether there's something going on with Bob and the lottery.
It's like the same thing here over here, two phrases, they only appear in two places in the entire Torah, here and there, I don't know, could be a coincidence, any given rare phrases they've got to appear somewhere. But then it's not just these two phrases that appear, there's this other phrase that appears that also echoes the very same narrative. Narrative A and Narrative B are being connected by more than one crazy coincidence here, doesn't really seem like a coincidence anymore. It seems like this is intentional.
Okay so just to take stock it does seem like the law of the mother bird, as crazy as it sounds, seems to be patterned after the conclusion of the Yaakov and Eisav story, the moment when these two men, brothers, meet and reconcile. But now the question is why and what would that mean?
At face value these two sections of Torah really seem to be entirely unrelated; what could Yaakov and Eisav possibly have to do with the law of the mother bird? But if you think about it a little bit more carefully, there is something about what's going on between Yaakov and Eisav that really does remind us of the law of the mother bird, isn't there? Let's just revisit what was happening between Yaakov and Eisav. Yaakov was about to meet his brother, he hadn't seen him in a long, long time. The last time he saw him he was running away from an enraged Eisav who had been tricked out of the blessing that his father had intended to give him. Now Yaakov, aware that Eisav is coming to meet him with 400 men, prays to G-d. But why is his only recourse prayer here at this moment, ask yourself. There is a logical defense mechanism you could use. If you face overpowering force confronting you - and Eisav is still like a day away - what could you do?
His normal defense in this situation would simply be to abscond, to run away - indeed isn't that what a bird would do if he faces overwhelming force? A bird can't defend himself against a human being physically, but a bird can run, can invoke flight, that's why a bird has wings. But flight is not available to Yaakov. Why? Because of the children, because of the young, who cannot run, and if the young cannot run who will protect them? If Yaakov has vulnerable children the mothers will protect the children and that's what worries Yaakov. Pen yovo v'hikani eim al banim - lest he come and strike me mother upon child. It's not only that I'll lose the children; the mothers are going to futilely try to defend their young from the overwhelming onslaught of Eisav's forces. They know they'll die, like the mother bird, but it doesn't make a difference, they'll still fight and I'll lose them too.
And if the children are pinned down and the mothers are pinned down because they will stay to protect their young, then who else will be pinned down? Yaakov too. Because he will stay to protect mother and child. Pen yovo v'hikani eim al banim - lest he come and strike me, mothers upon children. Not just metaphorically me, my camp, but me too, because I too will be pinned down and will fight to the last. Eisav will be able to destroy all of us because the children will be bait.
And this might go some distance towards perhaps explaining the very strange word we have for nest, that unique word; Kan. Yes, the word Kan it's never been used in the Torah before; Shiluach Ha'kan - sending away the mother from the nest. You don't even know what the word means by comparing it to previous uses of the word because there are no previous uses of the word, it's like the Torah made up the word. But you know, if the Yaakov and Eisav story really is the ground out of which the law of Shiluach Ha'kan grows, there's a word that sounds a lot like Kan in the Yaakov and Eisav meeting. The word comes right before; Eim al ha'banim, that other connection between these two points in Scripture - listen carefully to the Yaakov and Eisav story one more time.
Yaakov, praying to G-d says; Pen yovo v'hikani eim al banim, spelled differently but sounds the same, it sounds like a play on words. So it's like on the Pshat level - on the simple meaning of Yaakov's prayer, it means; Pen yovo v'hiKANi eim al banim - lest Eisav come and strike me, mother upon children. But it's as if Yaakov is also saying; Pen yovo v'hikani - lest Eisav come and make a nest out of me, trap me, use my children as bait, forcing the mother bird - the women, me - to stay behind in a fruitless attempt to defend them, only to be defeated by overwhelming force.
And speaking of overwhelming force, how much bigger exactly would you say a human being is to that poor, defenseless mother bird? A mother bird could look at a human, how big and overwhelming does that human appear to be? Well if you say an average bird about five ounces, six ounces, eight ounces, maybe a pound? If you do the math that's about 400 times smaller than your average human encountering a nest. It's almost as if Eisav coming here with 400 men is almost exactly the same ratio of overpowering strength as your average human bearing down upon a nest.
But now if you stand back and look at this picture, it almost looks as if something is awry. Because let's just do the math. If you take seriously this analogy that we're making between the law of the mother bird and Yaakov's encounter with Eisav, who exactly analogizes to who? Well, if Yaakov is the nest then who is the one who threatens that nest? That would be Eisav right? But if it is Eisav, let's look at the end of the story, Eisav in the end resists the temptation to use the children as bait, he does not strike mother upon children. It's almost as if he's the first one in the Torah who ever does the Mitzvah of sending away the mother bird, of not attacking and using that vulnerability to his advantage.
Then here's the strange thing; Yaakov in his prayer, invokes the reward of the mother bird; V'atah amarta - and You G-d, You said; Heitev eitiv imoch - that it would go well for me. But what's odd is that it shouldn't be Yaakov who gets that reward according to the law of the mother bird, if anything, it should be Eisav. Eisav is the one who fulfills this command, so to speak. The promise of Heitev eitiv imoch, almost should go to Eisav, does that ever happen?
So at face value you'd say no, I mean this is kind of the end of Eisav, we never really hear about Eisav again, this is the final encounter between Yaakov and Eisav. Yaakov goes his way and Eisav goes down to Se'ir and you sort of never hear about him again. But that's not exactly true, because if you fast-forward just a couple of chapters in Genesis you get to one last mention of Eisav; the Toldot of Eisav - the generations of Eisav. Child, after child, after child, Eisav has this long list of generations, and the kings of Edom - the kings of Eisav, they're named one after another, after another. It almost seems like you're reading this and you think why do I even need to know this, who cares about the generations of Eisav and the kings of Eisav? But what is this that we're getting here? We're getting the record of this reward. The reward extrapolated out of the individual level to the national level.
What would it mean to have long life at the national level? What would it mean for G-d to be good to you at the national level? It would mean to have a robust national life, to have child, after child, after child, to grow into a nation, for that nation to be governed in stability by kings - and that's what Eisav has, long before, as it turns out, Yaakov has it. The verse goes out of its way when describing the kings of Eisav to say; V'eileh ha'melachim asher malchu - these are the kings that reigned over Edom, long before; Meloch melech b'Yisrael - long before there was ever a king in Israel. Israel too gets its reward eventually, but Eisav gets the reward first. I wonder why?
Maybe because in the Torah's value system he was entitled to it for the way he conducted himself in his final encounter with his brother. He was angry, he was resentful at Yaakov, he had the means to crush him, but he did not take advantage of the children that pinned Yaakov down and barred Yaakov from using flight as his only escape. He didn't take advantage of that weakness on the part of his brother. He kept the Mitzvah of the mother bird as it were, and therefore reaps its reward.
By way of bringing this video to a close let me just say this. Although the Midrash characterizes Eisav as not the best of fellows, nevertheless, according to the Midrash, there was a Mitzvah he was quite good at keeping; the Mitzvah of Kibud Av v'Eim - of honoring your parents. Indeed, even though he contemplated killing Yaakov, he would not do so in the lifetime of his father, according to the text. And, while avoiding killing your brother in the lifetime of your father may not seem like the most meritorious of deeds, still it is an act of honor. So isn't it interesting then that the man who excels at the Mitzvah of honoring parents would also be the keeper of that Mitzvah's twin, the Mitzvah of the mother bird. Eisav honors parenthood, motherhood, the feeling of parent towards child, and perhaps it is this that somehow bequeaths him this great reward that the Torah makes certain to devote an entire chapter to telling us about.
So if we're right in this theory it seems like the story of the mother bird has its genesis in the Book of Genesis, in the story of Yaakov's encounter with Eisav. But what I want to show you in the next video is that we've actually just begun to scratch the surface of the connection between Yaakov and Eisav and the story of the mother bird. We've just looked at the last Act in the Yaakov and Eisav story, their final reconciliation, but as it turns out, the earlier Acts of that story are saturated with echoes of the mother bird too. What do we make of all of that? The story is in fact richer than we might have imagined. Let's begin to explore it a little bit more deeply now.
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