Before the children of Israel are to enter into the land, Moses “reteaches” the values and laws that they must follow in order to have a successful “aliya”. In this week’s parsha, the Jews are reminded about following no less than 72 mitzvot! What is interesting is that there is no mention in the Torah of any kind of reward given for performing mitzvoth except in 2 cases. One case is the mitzvah in our parsha called “shiluach hakan” – where you send away mother bird before taking its eggs from the nest. Here the Torah says that if you follow this mitzvah carefully, you will merit having a long life. The only other mention of the reward of a long life for doing the mitzvah is with regards to fulfilling the commandment of honoring one’s parents (from the Ten Commandments). What is the connection or relationship between these mitzvoth? The following midrash or story illustrates the question and alludes to the answer.
A king hired laborers and brought them into his garden without disclosing what he intended to pay for the various kinds of work, lest they should neglect the work for which the pay was little for work for which the pay was high. In the evening the king called each one and asked him: “At which tree have you worked?” He replied: “At this one.” Thereupon the king said to him: “This is a pepper tree and the pay for working at it is one golden piece.” He then called another and asked him: “At which tree have you worked?” And he replied “At this one.” Whereupon the king exclaimed: “This is an olive tree and the pay for working at it is 200 zuz.” Said the laborers to the king: “You should have informed us from the outset which tree had the greater pay attached to it, so that we might have worked at it.” The king replied: “Had I done this, how would the whole of my garden have been worked?” So God did not reveal the reward of the precepts, except of two, the weightiest and the least weighty. The honoring of parents is the very weightiest . . . and the sending away of the mother bird is the least weighty. (D’varim Rabbah 6:2)
In Judaism, our actions are not to be driven by the prospect of a reward. Performing mitzvot is rewarding in and of itself and there are intangible incentives for doing mitzvoth. The majority of mitzvot in our Torah are given without a reason or reward.
“These two mitzvot are the only ones mentioned with a reward because, in effect, they encompass all of the remaining 611 mitzvot. By telling us that the reward for both the simplest and most difficult mitzvot is one and the same, God is teaching us that all mitzvot are created equal. There is a reward given for both of these mitzvot and every one in between.” (Benjamin Cohen, Torah from Dixie)
But perhaps there is even a more significant connection between these two mitzvoth. Both the sending away of the mother bird from its eggs and the mitzvah of kibbud av va-em, honoring parents, are about the value of respecting those who give birth and/or raise us. There is no greater role in life than being a parent. When we honor either the mother bird or our parents, we are reminded of the idea that we have a relationship with God, our ultimate parent, whose spark is present in every being created. If we live our lives being sensitive to an animal and its offspring, then surely we will follow the path of honoring our parents, who give us life, love, and support.