The Physical Dangers of Anti-Rationalism
A number of people sent me details of a tefillah request that has been circulating. A kollel man from Kiryat Sefer wanted to perform the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, sending away the mother bird. As his wife and small children watched, he climbed over the edge of the balcony in order to perform the mitzvah. To their horror, he fell off the balcony, and was rushed to hospital in critical condition. (He is since doing much better, but still has a long way to go before full recovery.)
This case is particularly tragic because, as I explained in my monograph on shiluach hakein, this anti-rationalist view of the mitzvah, in which one should send away the mother bird even if one does not want the eggs, is not the approach of most (if not all) Rishonim, and probably not of Chazal, either. For them, the mitzvah of shiluach hakein is one of compassion, to be performed only if one actually wants to take the eggs (which would generally have been the case in antiquity, when such food was not as easily available as it is today). But if one does not want the eggs - as would always be the case today - there is no reason to send away the mother bird (and it is needlessly cruel to do so).
In the view of Rambam, all mitzvos serve either to teach ideological lessons, to improve our characters, or to improve society. Torah should be teaching us to lead our lives wisely and sensibly. The mitzvos do that - if we would only interpret them correctly. One person who wrote to me pointed out that this tragic case lends new significance in the juxtaposition of the mitzvah of shiluach hakein with the mitzvah of ma'akeh, building a protective fence around one's balcony. I am reminded of the tragedy of the Versailles wedding hall, which collapsed during a wedding. Some people were wondering what area of avodas Hashem was deficient. Tzniyus? Kashrus? Talking during davenning? The obvious contender - ma'akeh, and the idea behind it - was not even considered!
We should pray for the full recovery of Naftali ben Minka Mindel. And we should pray that people let the Torah be a tree of life and a source of wisdom.