Shabbat Shalom: What about the birds?

Feb 22, 2024 | Article

By: Renée Rockford
President & CEO

It doesn’t smell of death anymore, so the birds have started to return.” This headline from this week’s Israel from the Inside struck me. It was a reference to the site of the Nova Music Festival, where I stood less than a month ago as part of a JEWISHcolorado volunteer mission. We walked in the dark where some 300 young people lost their lives in the October 7 Hamas terrorist attacks. Reciting Kaddish by the light of the moon, the only other sounds I heard were tanks in the distance, and the repeated screech of a lone raptor. Earlier that day, we visited the ravaged kibbutz of Kerem Shalom, and I wondered about the birds. Was it the rocket and gunfire that shooed them away; was it the smell of death?

Nova festival grounds in Israel

I once climbed a mountain in Haiti with Episcopal Priest Pere Jeannot Jospeh to reach the mountainous village of Nordette, located near the city of Mirebalais. While long after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2015, devastation and unthinkable poverty remained widespread. As we hiked, I asked Pere Jeannot why there were no birds. He stood still for a moment, arrested in thought. “I cannot remember the last time I saw a bird in Haiti,” he said. Deforestation and the burning of wood charcoal had devastated the bird population.

And of what symbolism are birds? Avian creatures of all kinds are used throughout the Torah – as metaphors and allegories, and as a celebration of life. Of course, there is the story of Noah sending forth the dove from the ark to learn if dry land was near. We can also look to the two very different mitzvot that are supposed to ensure a good, long life. The first is honoring parents, a commandment that can take all but a lifetime. The other, of equal weight that can take only a moment. It is Shiluach haken (Hebrew: שילוח הקן, “sending-away the nest”).

It is the Jewish law derived from the Torah that enjoins one to scare away the mother bird before taking her young or eggs… “Let the mother go and take only the young,” so as to spare her from witnessing the loss of her offspring. One Torah commentator concludes that the equality of reward is the point. The “lightest” of commandments rewarded as much as the “weightiest” to teach us to treasure and observe all commandments equally–for the reward of any mitzvah is incalculable. No act is inherently trivial.

Wishing for each a Shabbat Shalom and prayers that soar toward heaven.

Please email Renée Rockford at with questions or comments.