| Parshah |

Chance Encounters

The parshah’s stream of ideas communicates a desirable equilibrium

“If you chance upon a bird nest…. send away the mother and then you can take the young…When you build a new house… make a fence for your roof.” (Devarim 22:6-8)


The wide sweep of topics in this parshah moves from the serene surroundings of a bird’s nest to the bustling building of one’s future home.

The former, the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, commands us to consider the pain of a mother when her children are being endangered. The latter, the mitzvah of maakeh, requires us to prepare a detailed plan for a safe new home. Shiluach hakein is a mitzvah of chance — for one who happens upon come across a nest — while building a home takes preparation.

Different places, different circumstances — and yet they are juxtaposed. Why? (Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger, The TorahWeb Foundation)

For kids, summer vacation means pure pleasure. For me, it’s pure panic.

Mischief loves unstructured time + My boys love mischief = Avoid unstructured time.

Day camps, afternoon activities, and family trips are all planned weeks in advance, with contingency plans as well. I don’t take chances.

Several years ago, I realized that between various day camps and overnights, we’d have no chunk of time to go away as a family. Ah, well. Family trips invariably require more planning, packing, shopping. It wasn’t as if I minded being forced to forgo all that. My kids obviously thought otherwise. But they didn’t want to miss their camp trips either. Something had to give. Or so I thought.

Rashi connects the dots by saying, “You’ll be rewarded for your compassion to the mother bird by the fulfillment of a new home.” Rav Shimon Schwab (Maayan Bais Hashoevah) suggests that the juxtaposition communicates brachah. The mitzvah of shiluach hakein is a “seize the moment” mitzvah, addressed to those who don’t allow situations to simply happen, but who utilize them as opportunities to do Hashem’s will. Conversely, the home builder is the consummate proactive planner. According to Rav Schwab, the pasuk links these two mitzvos to promise that the individual who doesn’t allow events to “simply happen,” will be blessed that tragedies do not “simply happen” on his property.
It was Wednesday when my daughter came into my room. I was trying to patch Binyamin’s pants and missed the calculating look in her eye.

“My friend called. She’s looking for a family to take over their rental for this Shabbos. In Tzfas.” Excitement leaked into her voice. I narrowly missed poking my finger.

“We are not going to Tzfas for Shabbos,” I said in my most emphatic voice, despite a mouthful of pins. “We have no time to plan for a trip like that.”

That was a dare my kids wouldn’t turn down. They eagerly folded laundry and packed, cooked and wrapped. I drew the line at making cholent to take along. Some sacrifices were necessary.

Far be it from me to reduce a possible brachah or promise of relief. Yet, I’d like to suggest that perhaps Rashi sees the juxtaposition of these mitzvos as a mandate to introduce a measure of spontaneity into an otherwise carefully prepared plan. A home without a plan is like a succah; such a home lacks discipline or accountability. Yet a life without youthful impetuosity can be stifling without creativity and curiosity.

The parshah’s stream of ideas communicates a desirable equilibrium. It’s the blessing of the patient parent who captures that balance with her children —approaching teachable moments with excitement and energy, and nurturing structure and progress with disciplined and continuous study.

What can I say? Sometimes you gotta go with the flow. Shabbos was stunning. We spent Friday at Tzfas’s famous cemetery davening at kivrei tzaddikim. Friday night had us in the Arizal’s shul, singing Lecha Dodi in the city where it was composed.

Late, after the seudah, we walked the alleyways and shuls, each one steeped in mesorah of hundreds of years.

Shabbos day we went wandering, drawn to the colorful characters and combinations that are part and parcel of Tzfas.

It was late Motzaei Shabbos by the time we finally hit the road. The kids had to be up early the next morning for camp; it was time to return to schedule. But as we drove the winding roads leading farther from the city, I turned for one more glance at the twinkling lights nestled into the hills above. I was so grateful to have thrown our schedule out the window to capture this magical window of time.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 707)

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