If, along the road, you chance upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young. Let the mother go, and take only the young, in order that you may fare well and have a long life. Deuteronomy Ki Tetzei 22:6-7
Rabbi Arthur Rulnick, a Conservative Rabbi on Long Island who is related to me by marriage, told me that Ki Tetzei has more mitzvot (commandments) than any other in the Torah. Some mitzvot speak to us directly out of the past. An example is not subverting the rights of the stranger or the fatherless. Others, such as the mitzvah of kan-tzipor as described in the quote above, are obscured by layers of historical and technological development and deserve further investigation.
Most dramatically, the phrase fare well and have a long life places a special emphasis on this commandment. Remarkably, the only other commandment that contains this phrase is the Decalogue’s Honor thy mother and father. Now, there are many ways of approaching mitzvot. Some look to find the sanitary reasons for some mitzvot. Others point to how a shared set of rules help to bind a community. In other cases, some will accept that by serving God—whose purposes are unknowable—we fulfill our role as Jews. The more internally oriented will be concerned with how making holy our daily actions makes our selves holy.
The Etz Chayim Torah Commentary considers Maimonides’ interpretation of this passage. Maimonides wrote that this would spare the mother the pain of having the offspring taken away in her sight. The commentator in Etz Chayim downplays the amount of relief the mother bird would experience and focuses instead on the callousness the act induces in the people who commit it.
In considering this passage in light of modern environmental understanding, I propose a more direct and practical understanding. Ancient Israel lived to some extent on the edge of sustainability. The sojourn in Egypt, after all, was precipitated by environmental catastrophe—drought and crop failure. Perhaps kan-tzipor is one of the first environmental preservation acts.
Our ancestors recognized that you had to limit what you took from the environment or you would destroy it. Literally, we are being pointed to the very practical dangers of ignoring long-term consequences of our treatment of nature. Just as understanding and respecting parents is an essential base of family life, respecting the environment is the essential base of our physical life.
We have been pleased with what our Coffee Project is accomplishing. By supporting shade grown coffee, we preserve habitat for migrating birds, reduce carbon-emitting rainforest clearing, respect the stranger who grows our coffee for us, and help build up our shul. Having coffee tastings has been a lot of fun and giving our coffee has been a popular way gift choice at holiday times that also builds awareness of Temple Hillel B’Nai Torah. The naming contest for the three roasts brought out creativity in our members as well.
Triple Mitzvah Coffee is available in 3 roasts
Dark roast-Chai Test
Medium Roast-Mi Cha Mocha
Decaffeinated (Swiss Water)-The Promised Blend
Order the coffee online. $4.00 of every $9.80/lb purchase is a donation to the synagogue and is tax-deductible. (Shipping is additional)
Questions for consideration:
About the Project Coordinators and Temple Hillel B’Nai Torah:
Cynthia Berkowitz abstains from coffee after heavy use earlier in life. Ed Levy limits himself to one cup a day with milk and sweetener only if his 2-year-old son has not slept well the night before.
Temple Hillel B’nai Torah (HBT) is the only Reconstructionist congregation in the City of Boston. Its members come from both the city of Boston and its suburbs. Last year, congregant (now Board Member) Cynthia Berkowitz developed the idea of Triple Mitzvah Coffee. By developing a partnership with a Western Massachusetts roaster, HBT sells coffee that promotes sustainable coffee farming, gives a better price to the coffee farmers of Less Developed Countries, and benefits the synagogue. Triple Mitzvah Coffee is available for purchase.