I was (and still am) a huge fan of The London School of Jewish Song, also known as the London Pirchei. When I happily attended their concerts as a kid, I would prop myself up as high as I could on my seat so I could get an unobstructed view of the choreography, the hand motions, and Yigal Calek, the choirmaster, flitting back and forth across the stage. Public service announcement for any fellow London Pirchei fans out there: You can watch their recent London Pirchei reunions on YouTube.
My family visited Israel one summer when I was a young child. One of my most cherished memories from that trip was when we unexpectedly ran into the London Pirchei at the Kosel on Friday night. The Kosel is crowded on Friday nights, and that particular Shabbos was no exception. The boys navigated the crowds, saying, “Pardon me” and “Excuse me” with their adorable British accents. I think I even got a glimpse of Spencer Lichtig, the young composer of the hit “Yekum Purkan.” Who could have imagined back then that some of those old songs would still be popular today? I can’t imagine Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur davening without Mar’ei Kohen and Chamol.
Besides the entertainment it provided, the London Pirchei supplemented my formal education in elementary school. An assignment to memorize Shiras Devorah, a song sung by Devorah HaNeviah after B’nei Yisrael won the war against the Canaanites, was no problem. My family sang the Pirchei song “Shimu Melachim” every Shabbos at the table. I knew it by heart. When we learned about the effect that looking at Moshe Rabbeinu’s raised hands had on B’nei Yisrael when they fought the war against Amaleik, I was ahead of the game. I had already watched the choir boys acting out the scene on stage while they sang “V’chi Yadav.” It was a fun and effective way to learn.
Their song “Kan Tzipor” was about Shiluach HaKein, a mitzvah mentioned in this week’s parshah. If someone stumbles across a nest while on his way, whether in a tree or on the ground, and a mother bird is resting on her chicks or eggs, he is not permitted to take the mother along with her chicks or eggs. We are commanded to send the mother away, and only then can we take the chicks or eggs. The reward for this mitzvah is the promise of a long life.
For many years, the extent of my knowledge regarding this mitzvah was what I had learned from watching the choir boys. I do not recall ever performing or watching someone else perform this mitzvah when I lived in New York. This may have changed, but here in Israel, where we live, there are many opportunities to perform this mitzvah.
Over the years, birds have often nested on our property. To fulfill this mitzvah properly, the mother and chick/nest must be ownerless. Our rav explained that even though the nests are on our property, we can still fulfill this mitzvah by declaring them hefker, ownerless, in front of three men.
In our previous home, a bird built a nest on the window ledge adjacent to my son’s bed. His third-grade rebbi piled the entire class into his not-so-mini-van and brought them to our house to learn about this mitzvah hands-on. The boys sat attentively in my living room as their rebbi taught them the halachah. (Whoever said school-aged boys are a handful did not meet these little angels.) Then they went upstairs to watch the rebbi perform the mitzvah. In his eagerness, my son quickly pushed open the door to his room and made a beeline for the window. The startled mother flew away before anyone could even see her. The rebbi waited a while for her to return, as she always did. But he soon ran out of time and took his charges back to school.
We have also had many nests at our current home, some on window sills and some near our air conditioning units. When we notice a growing pile of twigs on the sill, we know what’s coming. We watch the nest take shape as the mother prepares for her chicks. We often find feathers and cracked shells on our porches, especially when we build our sleeping sukkah on our upper mirpeset. Friends and neighbors come by to fulfill this precious mitzvah.
One Erev Pesach, our rav brought his wife and daughter to our home so they could all perform this mitzvah associated with many s’gulos. Not only was he able to fulfill the somewhat rare mitzvah of Shiluach HaKein, but on that very same day, we recited Birkas HaChamah, a brachah made only once every 28 years when the sun returns to the same position it occupied at the time of Sheishes Y’mei B’reishis, the time of the creation of the world. The next time we recite this brachah will be in 2037, b’ezras Hashem.
The mitzvah of Shiluach HaKein costs nothing and involves no preparation. One can only fulfill this mitzvah if he happens to chance upon it. Stephen Savitsky, a former OU Board chairman, wrote a book titled Kan Tzipor, a collection of chesed stories he calls “Kan Tzipor moments,” sudden opportunities to do chesed that can quickly slip through one’s fingers. Even though the mitzvah of Shiluach HaKein only presents itself occasionally, we can apply its lessons to our everyday lives. We can seize the moment and act upon fleeting chesed opportunities that come our way.
While there is no promise of long life for every act of kindness, those selfless acts will fill our lives with meaning and be a merit before Hashem.