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The 613 mitzvot of the Torah fall into two categories;

"Bein Adam Lamakom" between man and G-d - mitzvot which have no direct effect on other people, such as eating kosher, keeping Shabbat, and reciting blessings.

"Bein Adam Lachaveiro" between one person and another - mitzvot that involve interaction with other people and the sensitivities involved.

The Parsha Ki Teitzei, contains more mitzvot than any other Parsha of the Torah (74 mitzvot). Most of the mitzvot in this Parsha are mitzvot Bein Adam Lachaveiro - concerning behavior between man and his fellow man. As we near the end of the year and prepare for the new year, we must be very careful in our behavior toward others.

"If a bird's nest happens to be before you on the road, on any tree or on the ground - young birds or eggs - and the mother is roosting on the young birds or the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. You shall surely send away the mother and take the young for yourself, so that it will be good for you and will prolong your days."

Devarim (Deuteronomy 22:6-7)

The Torah forbids one to take an ownerless mother bird when it is sitting on its eggs or young. The Torah commands us to shoo away the mother bird - even many times if it keeps returning to the nest - and only then is one permitted to take the eggs or young.

This mitzvah of Shiluach HaKen - sending away the mother bird, shows that we should have compassion for all living things, and should not torment the mother bird by taking her offspring in her presence.

" You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together."

Devarim (Deuteronomy 22:10)

The Torah forbids one to harness two different types of animals together. This prohibition applies not only to oxen and donkeys or plowing, but also to any coupling of any two different species, for any kind of work. (Rashi).

The Da'at Zekeinim, (a collection of comments on the Torah by the Tosafist school of the 12th and 13th centuries), explains that one of the reasons for this prohibition may be the fact that an ox chews its cud, whereas a donkey does not. Imagine the pain that the donkey would feel if, while they are both hungry for rest and nutrition as they labor side by side under the yoke, the donkey would turn his head, and see the ox chewing its cud. "When did he get food?" the donkey would be thinking, pained by the fact that the ox has food and he does not.

"You shall not muzzle an ox while it is threshing."

Devarim (Deuteronomy 25:4)

Threshing is the process that separates wheat from its husks. This is accomplished by stepping on the wheat. The husks split off and are left behind. Oxen are used to step on the wheat. One is not allowed to muzzle the ox; thereby preventing it from eating the wheat while it is threshing. The ox becomes hungry while working. To prevent him from eating would be a cruelty.

The Torah is admonishing us to be sensitive to the pain of animals. The mitzvot to send away the mother bird, not to muzzle a working animal, and not to harness two different types of animals together fall under the category of Tza-ar Ba-alei Chayim - cruelty to animals. These mitzvot remind us that all living things must be treated with care and respect and that we must not let creatures suffer.

But there's more to it.

The Ramban, one of the greatest leaders and Torah commentaries of the Middle Ages, explains that one of the reasons for the mitzvah of Shiluach HaKen, is so that we do not develop within ourselves a trait of cruelty by grossly causing discomfort to the mother bird by allowing her to witness the taking of her young.

With regards to muzzling an animal, the Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 596) explains the reason behind this mitzvah. We must teach ourselves to be compassionate. When we accustom ourselves to always seeking the kind and benevolent path even towards animals, how much more so we will learn to be compassionate towards human beings.

In all of these scenarios, as well as in numerous other places, the Torah is teaching us an incredible lesson in the sensitivity that we must have in recognizing - and preventing - the distress and discomfort of others.

Kindness to animals is related to kindness in human beings. The Torah teaches us that we have a greater obligation to our fellow man than to animals. That does not mean that we can be cruel to animals. We must look at it the other way. We must be kind even to animals. How much more so must we be kind to human beings. If the Torah can be so demanding about how sensitive we are to these animals, how much more so must we be sensitive to other people.

Rabbi Paysach Krohn, a popular author and lecturer, expresses this idea in his book, "In the Footsteps of the Maggid" (pg. 142). He includes the following true story, which recalls the sensitivity towards one's fellowman and exemplifies how far we must go to prevent another person's discomfort:

There once was a quiet, kind, and unassuming Jew, a Holocaust survivor, who came to this country as a teenager. Money did not come easily as he struggled throughout his life to eke out a meager livelihood to support his family. When he was older, retired from his daily endeavor to earn a livelihood, he would always carry a roll of quarters with him. No one knew the reason for this seemingly strange behavior. It was only after he passed away, that the reason was revealed.

At the Shul (synagogue) where this man prayed daily, poor people would often come around, asking for contributions. Most people would give change in various denominations. This man realized that if he were to take out a dollar bill, intending to ask for change, the poor person would feel a momentary surge of excitement at the prospect of being given a whole dollar instead of his usual change. This fleeting hope would be quickly shattered, when change would be requested, and that excitement would revert to disappointment.

Rather than play with another person's emotions, and in order to avoid the poor person's momentary discomfort, this man would walk around with a roll of quarters, so he would always have the correct change when it was needed for his daily contributions.

This story should serve as an example of how extremely sensitive we must be to the feelings of others, constantly striving to prevent them from experiencing any unnecessary discomfort. When someone needs a helping hand, no matter how big or how small, it is our duty to offer it. For if the Torah can be so concerned about an animal's temporary discomfort, we are certainly expected to go out of our way to help a person in need. And if we must be so careful to prevent someone from suffering, even from the momentary disappointment that a poor person would feel when realizing that he will only be given a percentage of what he was anticipating, how much more so must we not be the instigators of that discomfort by humiliating, ridiculing, or disparaging others.

Through this awareness, may we be able to fulfill all of the mitzvot - both those between man and Hashem and those between man and his fellow man - with the proper sensitivity and respect for one another.

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