לסדר כי תצא
כִּי תִהְיֶיןָ לְאִישׁ שְׁתֵּי נָשִׁים וכו' לֹא יוּכַל לְבַכֵּר אֶת בֶּן הָאֲהוּבָה עַל פְּנֵי בֶן הַשְּׂנוּאָה הַבְּכֹר
If a man has two wives, one beloved, and another hated . . . that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, who is indeed the firstborn (Deuteronomy 21:15-16)
It is puzzling that the Torah felt it necessary to inform us of this law. For on what ground would we have supposed that a father, out of his love for the mother of the second son, could treat the second son as if he were the first-born son?
It appears to our master that the Scripture is here warning us not to use the underlying rationale for a law as the basis for a halakhic inference (שלא נדרוש טעמא דקרא). Thus, one might have said that the reason why the Torah gave the first-born son the right to take a double portion of his father's inheritance is that the first son issues from the union between a husband and the wife of his youth, motivated by a surpassing love and an absolute unity. As the product of such a loving union and the first fruit of his father's strength, a first-born son is thus endowed with noble and honorable qualities, as is apparent from the opposite situation: the children of enmity and of conflict become rebellious and sinful, "offspring of evil-doers, sons who deal corruptly" (זֶרַע מְרֵעִים, בָּנִים מַשְׁחִיתִים) (Isaiah 1:4), as the Sages deduce (Nedarim 20b)
"And I will purge out the rebels from among you and those who transgress against Me" (וּבָרוֹתִי מִכֶּם הַמֹּרְדִים וְהַפּוֹשְׁעִים בִּי) (Ezekiel 20:38). R. Levi said: This refers to children belonging to one of the nine categories of enmity between a husband and wife.
It might therefore be supposed that if a man has two wives, one beloved and one hated, and his first-born son is the child of the hated wife, the above reason for bestowing a double portion on the first-born son is invalid, so that the son of the beloved wife is the more deserving of the double portion. To counter such reasoning, the Scripture is teaching us here not to use the underlying rationale for the law as the ground for inferring any qualification in its application, and, thus, to allow the father to treat the son of the beloved wife as if he were the first-born son. The Torah emphasizes that it is the first-born son who is the first fruit of his father's strength and therefore retains the right to be treated as the first-born son under all circumstances.
כִּי יִהְיֶה לְאִישׁ בֵּן סוֹרֵר וּמוֹרֶה אֵינֶנּוּ שֹׁמֵעַ בְּקוֹל אָבִיו וּבְקוֹל אִמּוֹ וְיִסְּרוּ אֹתוֹ וְלֹא יִשְׁמַע אֲלֵיהֶם
If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not listen to them (Deuteronomy 21:18)
In the Sifri, R. Yehudah says that if the boy's mother was unworthy of his father, he cannot be judged a rebellious son. The Sages say in the Talmud that by this he meant that the mother must be similar to the father in voice, appearance, and height. What does this mean?
It appeared to our master to explain the matter in an aggadic fashion. In the natural course of events a child will always listen intently to the words of his father and mother and will be very careful to obey and follow whatever they say. However, if the father and the mother are not in accord but in conflict with each other, so that his father guides him in one direction and his mother guides him in another, then their honor will be diminished in his eyes. He will then not pay heed to either of them any longer even in a matter about which they both agree. He will stop caring about what they say and will not be interested in following their advice. And this we also know from experience.
This is what is meant by the verse "if a man has a stubborn and rebellious son" (כִּי יִהְיֶה לְאִישׁ בֵּן סוֹרֵר וּמוֹרֶה). The reason that the son is rebellious is that he "will not obey" (אֵינֶנּוּ שֹׁמֵעַ). But understand that the son does not give heed, because he cannot give heed and obey "to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother" ( בְּקוֹל אָבִיו וּבְקוֹל אִמּוֹ). The word "voice" (קוֹל) is repeated to signify that the parents' opinions are in conflict, so that the son cannot fulfill the will of both. Therefore, even if "they both chastise him" (וְיִסְּרוּ אֹתוֹ) about a matter that they both agree upon, "he will not give heed to them" (וְלֹא יִשְׁמַע אֲלֵיהֶם), but instead tosses their words aside. It is about this that R. Yehudah said, if his mother was unworthy of his father, he cannot be judged a rebellious son, because such a verdict can be rendered only if the father and the mother are in accord in all their opinions and guide him along a single path. Only on this condition, if he does not listen to them, may the verdict appropriate to a rebellious son be rendered upon him.
כִּי יִקָּרֵא קַן צִפּוֹר לְפָנֶיךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּכָלעֵץ אוֹ עַל הָאָרֶץ אֶפְרֹחִים אוֹ בֵיצִים וְהָאֵם רֹבֶצֶת עַל הָאֶפְרֹחִים אוֹ עַל הַבֵּיצִים לֹא תִקַּח הָאֵם עַל הַבָּנִים שַׁלֵּחַ תְּשַׁלַּח אֶת הָאֵם וְאֶת הַבָּנִים תִּקַּח לָךְ לְמַעַן יִיטַב לָךְ וְהַאֲרַכְתָּ יָמִים
If a bird's nest chance to be before thee in the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the dam sitting upon the young, or upon the eggs, thou shalt not take the dam with the young; thou shalt in any wise let the dam go, but the young thou mayest take unto thyself; that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days. (Deuteronomy 22:6)
In the Midrash Rabbah it is written: This bears on the verse (Proverbs 4:23): Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life" (מִכָּל מִשְׁמָר, נְצֹר לִבֶּךָ: כִּימִמֶּנּוּ תּוֹצְאוֹת חַיִּים).
What is the connection between this verse and the commandment of sending away the mother before taking the nestlings? It appears to our master to explain that the Torah promises the same reward for fulfilling this commandment as for honoring one's father and mother. Concerning both it says (Deuteronomy 22:7), "that it may go well with you, and that you may live long." (See also Deuteronomy 5:16)
But the Midrash (Deuteronomy Rabbah 6) finds it problematic that the reward for the two commandments is the same,
"She does not take heed to the path of life" (Proverbs 5:6). The honoring of parents is the weightiest commandment and its reward is long life . . . and the sending away of the mother bird is the least weighty,1 and what is its reward? Length of days.
So it is astonishing that both commandments should carry the same reward. But the matter may be explained as follows. If we should serve the Eternal for the purpose of receiving a reward, just as a slave serves his master, then we shall each receive a reward commensurate with our service. The greater the service the greater the reward. But we may also serve the Eternal in the manner of a son who serves his father, a son whose every longing is to give honor to his father and to carry out his wishes. If we serve the Eternal in this way, and all our desires and longings are to serve Him in joy and gladness without regard for any reward, then we shall all receive the same reward whether our service is great or small. For then the Eternal will treat us just as a father who, in dividing up his estate, does not distinguish among his children according to how much service they provided him, and does not give a larger portion to the son who was able to do more in his behalf and a smaller one to the son who could provide only a trifling service.
This is the meaning of the Midrash. The verse: "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life" teaches us that from the equality between the reward for honoring one's parents with that for sending away the mother before taking the nestlings, it is clear that it is the intent of our heart which is of greatest importance. What is essential is to direct our heart toward heaven, for it is from heaven that the longevity mentioned here is bestowed.
And in this way one can explain what the Talmud says at the end of Hulin (142a). A man once told his son to bring him nestlings and the son went to the roof and brought the young birds from their nest and on his way down the son fell to his death. What happened, the Talmud asks, to the longevity that this one was promised for obeying his father and for sending away the mother before taking the nestlings? And the Talmud replies that perhaps he had been harboring idolatrous thoughts, by which the Talmud must have meant that the son did not perform the commandments with the proper intent, for the sake of the Eternal to give Him satisfaction, but instead performed them only for the sake of reward. And this improper intention was referred to metaphorically as "idolatrous." For his intention was not to serve the Eternal, but to serve himself. And although the Eternal does provide a reward even to those who serve Him for the sake of a reward, the longevity promised in this verse relates only to those who serve Him out of love.
Another answer that one might offer is that our Sages say that one who says that the commandment of sending away the mother before taking the nestlings is instructed to keep silent. And this presumably applies to anyone who provides a reason for any of the commandments dictated by reason such as honoring one's parents. The Talmud thus may have meant to say that perhaps the son fell to his death because he had been thinking that he was performing these commandments out of mercy, and because he performed the commandments with that intention, his performance of them did not safeguard him against a fatal mishap. Perhaps this was also the meaning of the Midrash: "Keep your heart with all vigilance." Do not think that we perform the commandments of the Eternal out of mercy.