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Shabbat Ki Teytsey

Long Life - Deuteronomy Chapter 21:10-25:19 by Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen
Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

There are two laws this week that specifically promise that if you carry them out you will have a long life. The first comes in Deuteronomy Chapter 22 verse 6. It says that…

“If you come across a bird's nest on the road whether in a tree or the ground and there are fledglings or eggs and the mother bird is sitting on the nest, do not take the mother together with her young. Let the mother go, and take only the young, so that you may fare well and have a long life.”

One may wonder why the Torah considers this so important that it adds this specific reward of a long life. The rabbis disagree as to whether this is a law that intends to show that one has to be sensitive and not cruel to animals or whether it's designed to teach us that if we are commanded to be sensitive to birds how much more so should we be sensitive towards all human beings. And several chapters later in Deuteronomy Chapter 25:4, comes another law that seems to be concerned with animal welfare, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is threshing.”

In Chapter 25 verse 13 it says:

“You shall not have in your pouch alternate weights, larger and smaller.

You must have completely honest weights and completely honest measures if you are to endure long on the soil that your God gives you. For everyone who does those things, everyone who deals dishonestly is abhorrent to your God.”

The most famous example of promising long life comes in the 10 commandments both in Exodus Chapter 20 verse 12 version and in Deuteronomy Chapter 5 verse 16.

“Respect (or Honour) your parents so that you will have a long life on this earth which the Lord God gives you.”

There are other promises of a long life as a reward for keeping the commands, for example (Deuteronomy 4:40, 5:30, 6:2) so why are these specific examples singled out?

What exactly does “long life” mean? We see that good people are often not rewarded and bad people do rather well.

The Talmud (Kiddushin 39b) tells the story of a father who sends his son up a tower to send away the mother bird and take the eggs. He is doing two of the things that the Torah says promise a long life. But on the way down the child falls and dies. Three rabbis witness this tragedy. And they give three different responses. One is that there is no reward and punishment in this world. It is a metaphor for another, spiritual realm. Which of course we know nothing about but take on faith. The other is that possibly the father of the child had done something really bad and this was poetic justice. But that is speculative. The final explanation is a practical one. Perhaps the ladder was defective or they didn't take the right precautions. And if you behave dangerously or carelessly, accidents are bound to happen no matter how good a person you are. This is one of the fundamental theological debates within Judaism.

There is an alternative explanation. Long life can mean long life for us as a people or for humanity, in contrast to individuals. These are three fundamentals that ensure that humanity thrives on Earth. First comes the family and relationship between parents and children who are responsible for bringing up and caring for children. Second, comes the balance of nature between all species and the natural world. We see today what happens when we neglect these areas. The third is commerce and business ethics, essential for us to trade and help each other. A long life has many possible meanings, but being a considerate, caring human being tops the lot!

Shabbat Shalom



Jeremy Rosen was born in Manchester, England, the eldest son of Rabbi Kopul Rosen and Bella Rosen. Rosen's thinking was strongly influenced by his father, who rejected fundamentalist and obscurantist approaches in favour of being open to the best the secular world has to offer while remaining committed to religious life. He was first educated at Carmel College, the school his father had founded based on this philosophical orientation. At his father's direction, Rosen also studied at Be'er Yaakov Yeshiva in Israel (1957–1958 and 1960). He then went on to Merkaz Harav Kook (1961), and Mir Yeshiva (1965–1968) in Jerusalem, where he received semicha from Rabbi Chaim Leib Shmuelevitz in addition to Rabbi Dovid Povarsky of Ponevezh and Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Shapiro of Yeshivat Be'er Ya'akov. In between Rosen attended Cambridge University (1962–1965), graduating with a degree in Moral Sciences.


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