Parsha Ki Seitzei: Learning by doing

Dear Scouts:

Did you ever ask your Scoutmaster a question and he replied “Have you asked your patrol leader?”

Or maybe you told one of the other leaders you wanted to learn how to tie a certain kind of knot, and got the response to “Is that in the Boy Scout Handbook?

Perhaps these discussions left you unhappy or frustrated.  After all, the adult you were talking to probably knew the answer.  Why did they send you away?

Because if they told you, all they would accomplish is to give you information, without anyone really learning anything.

When you get information from your patrol leader, he either knows and gets to practice explaining things to you, or he has to learn so he can tell you.  When you find out something for yourself, as when you read a book, you not only learn the new skill, you also learn something about the process of learning.  Next time you want information, instead of thinking you have to go to one of the adults, you know that the troop’s youth leaders and your Boy Scout Handbook are sources of information you can use.

One of the most interesting lessons of this week’s parsha, Ki Seitzei, uses the same principle. The Torah (Deuteronomy 22:6-7) teaches us the mitzvah that before you take young birds you must first send away the mother bird.

The reason for this seems pretty simple – even animals love their young and try to protect them.  If the mother bird sees her young being taken away, she will be very distressed, even more so than if the young are removed while she is off and she comes back to see her young are gone.  The Sages of the Talmud suggested that God gave us this mitzvah because He has mercy on the mother bird.  The Ramban (also called Nachmanides) disagreed, and explained that God gave us this mitzvah not because of His feelings of mercy, but so that mankind will learn to be merciful.  If people are allowed to do cruel things – like taking away the young birds while the mother watches – they will act cruelly in other things.  If people learn to respect the feelings of the mother bird, it will be a lesson for dealing with every living thing.

So, sometimes a lesson or a mitzvah is just about doing a specific thing.  Sometimes it is about how to do everything.

Shabbat Shalom,

Nelson Block